A cheering crowd of more than 500 welcomed HMS Somerset home to Plymouth today (Thursday 2nd December) after six months deployed to the Middle East on maritime policing operations.
The crowd of ecstatic families and other well-wishers braved chilling temperatures and light snow at HM Naval Base Devonport. They were warmed by festive entertainment on the jetty for young families, including music by a Royal Marine Band, a band of Weston-Super-Mare Sea Cadets, while a decorated tent hosted a Christmas tree and Santa Claus giving children presents who designed welcome-home posters while waiting for the ship.
The frigate was hailed by the freezing crowd who waved home-made banners and mini-Union Jack flags and watched a Royal Navy Lynx helicopter put on a short air display.
HMS Somerset commanding officer, Commander Andrew Burns, of Lee-on-Solent, Portsmouth, was met off his ship by his parents Bryan and Pam and his wife Wendy and son Samuel, age 3. Cdr Burns said: “It is fantastic to be back home and to see my family again. The families play a vital role in our success, by providing support back home. It is very cheering to see so many here who have travelled from throughout the country, despite the winter weather.”
Cdr Burns’ wife said: “It has been tough for all the families bringing up children while their partners are away and running the household. It is very good to see Andrew again and Samuel will be keen to play the game Battle of Trafalgar with his father.”
The ship’s primary role on deployment was to protecting the oil platforms, vital to the Iraqi economy and the reconstruction effort of the coalition campaign. HMS Somerset’s maritime security operations continued throughout the Arabian Gulf and contributed to counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa. Petty Officer (supply chain) Charlie Read of Yeovilton, was hugged by his son Ashley, 6, and daughter Lauryn, 3, when he stepped ashore. He said: “I am very happy to be back with my family. The deployment was long and hot. The major achievements were protecting the Iraqi oil platforms and waving the flag for the UK.”
His wife Gemma said: “ It’s fantastic to have Charlie back. Lucky him, he has missed Ashley losing his teeth, while Ashley has missed his dad a lot – as we all have.” Ashley said he looked forward to playing with his cars with his dad and to getting Christmas presents.”
Sharon Brooks and her daughter Lily, 12 months, of Plymouth, cheered home husband Mark (a leading electronic technician) off his ship, with Mark’s mother Karen and his aunt and uncle. Sharon said: “It has been sad that Mark had to be away so long and miss so much of Lilly’s short life. He missed Lilly’s teething problems, so, in compensation to me he will have to tell her about the ‘birds and bees’ when she is older. I e-mailed him photos of Lily to keep him up to date as she grew. He was extra busy on board, organising a charity quiz on board and took part in the sponsored rowing.”
Sharon said the couple met when both were in the Royal Navy on board HMS Somerset and he was her boss seven years ago: She added: “I was in the Navy myself so I understand about being away from home. But it is still hard being effectively a single mother for months. However, I do have good family support and I am so happy to see him.”
Engineer Anthony Williams was welcomed home by his parents Gary and Mary, his sister Paula Gregson and nephew Alfie, all from Liverpool. Paula said: “We’ve all missed my brother. He has been away on HMS Argyll previously and it seemed a long time this time. Most of the time he didn’t see much at sea as he was looking after the diesel engines down below decks. It was hot out there and even hotter in the engine rooms. Now it’s freezing here.”
Anthony’s wife and daughter Rachael and Annabelle, will have to wait a day to see him as they could not come to Plymouth to greet him from Liverpool Commander Burns added: “My ship’s company of 200 has achieved considerable effect throughout the Middle and Near East in direct support to the UK’s strategic interests in the region and as part of coalition maritime forces. Our presence has supported the Iraqi Navy to defend the Al Basrah Oil Terminal, allowed legitimate seafarers in the Arabian Gulf to go about their business unhindered. We have engaged with key allies of the UK throughout the Gulf. This activity confirms the UK’s and the Royal Navy’s commitment to the security of this vital region. My ship’s company are now looking forward to a well earned leave period before we return in the New Year and prepare to regenerate to deploy again in 2011.”
The Type 23 frigate sailed from Plymouth in May to the Gulf of Suez where it joined Combined Task Force 150, a coalition maritime task force to counter terrorism, smuggling and illegal arms trafficking in the Middle East, across an area of over 2.4 million nautical square miles. The Royal Navy continues to help protect shipping lanes where 33,000 shipping movements take place and carry half of the world’s oil and gas each year. For 122 days HMS Somerset successfully improved the stability of the Arabian Gulf.
The ship then joined Combined Task Force 151, a coalition maritime force dealing with counter-piracy operations. The task force has resulted in a reduction of piracy attacks by 15% within the Gulf of Aden in two years.
In the Northern Arabian Gulf HMS Somerset defended the Al Basrah Oil Terminal and helped in the transition of security duties to the Iraqi Navy, which is increasingly taking responsibility for their territorial waters and the oil platforms. The ship deployed its Royal Marine and ship’s crew as potential boarding teams 250 times in their smaller boats to check on shipping and engage with the masters and crew of dhows and merchant vessels. The response of the maritime community to the presence of the Royal Navy was highly positive.
HMS Somerset also carried out diplomatic engagements with Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, developing and strengthening the UK’s relationships. On leaving the Gulf the crew rested in Oman and enjoyed sport, diving and exploring the wadis and mountains and hosted the Royal Omani Navy. On her way home HMS Somerset continued to assure maritime security. During the deployment her crew raised an impressive £3,200 for charities including the Baytree School in Weston-Super-Mare.