Sailors arriving back in the UK today (Friday 24th) following a six-month deployment on counter-piracy operations received a rapturous welcome.
An emotional homecoming greeted the crew of the Royal Navy frigate HMS Somerset on sailing patrol in the Middle East into its home base of HM Naval Base Devonport, Plymouth.
More than 600 joyous families and friends greeted their loved ones on the jetty with banners and cheers following the ship’s success in conducting maritime security operations to ensure the freedom of navigation to merchant vessels in the world’s busiest trade routes.
HMS Somerset’s captain Commander Paul Bristowe said: “It is fantastic to be met by hundreds of families and friends on the jetty. The crew deserve this moment from their families who have been so hugely supportive which is appreciated so much by us all.
“My ship’s company have been really professional, enabling the ship to conduct effective maritime policing operations including counter-piracy and counter-smuggling. One of the incidents came about when we came across a ship in which the crew had been effectively taken captive by pirates. We secured the vessel from the pirates and released the captured Pakistani crew. As well as disrupting two piracy acts we also rescued two separate crews in distress on the high seas. This was very rewarding and exactly why we were there and what we have trained for.”
The ship also demonstrated its war-fighting capability such as anti-submarine warfare in exercise scenarios with other navies.
At the head of the queue to meet her husband Chief petty Officer Rob Lawes come off the ship in privileged third place was Leanne with their first child – 15-week-old son Daniel bouncing in her arms dressed in sailor suit, specially made by his mother for the happy occasion.
Rob said: “It’s wonderful to see Daniel again. Leanne has done a wonderful looking after him. Mind you I was lucky enough that the navy flew me home to be there at his birth. Others have had to wait until today to see their families. It is a great day for everyone.’’
Leanne has been married to Rob for three years, they met through sea cadets. She said: “It has been hard being pregnant without Rob around. He has missed most of Daniel’s very short life so far. But he has been a great dad and kept in contact daily.’’
A special combined Christmas and homecoming party is planned for the Lawes family to mark missing the festive break in their home town Walsall, West Midlands.
Julie Gale was overjoyed to see her daughter Leading Medical Assistant Donna Gale again – the first time she had been deployed to sea. Her incident-packed patrol included looking after a patient in Tanzania and giving medical cover to a football match in Saudi Arabia. Julie said: “Donna’s had a really busy time on her first ship. It’s brilliant to see her again.’’
HMS Somerset has remained at sea for up to six weeks continuously at any one time and visited Oman, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania and the Seychelles. Whilst in various ports the crew engaged with their host nations on a variety of issues ranging from maritime security tactics to playing football; all of which served to strengthen international co-operation based on the shared need to protect maritime trade routes.
Throughout her deployment Somerset’s ship’s company have remained ready to respond to any tasking and has been
predominantly working under Combined Maritime Forces as part of a task force which patrols the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman. It is a multi-national endeavour and exists to create a lawful and stable maritime environment free from terrorism, smuggling and piracy. Her principal mission was to deter, disrupt and defeat such actions.
Petty Officer Jamie Newman, of Plymouth, hugged his children Evie, 7 and Owyn, 10, who were delighted to see their father. Evie said her dad was taking her to Brownies – the first time he had been able to. Owyn is looking forward to football with his father. Their mother Lisa said: “Although it has been hard keeping these two (children) occupied, Jamie is back and that more than made up for everything.’’ Jamie said: “The deployment has been successful, especially with counter-piracy ops. It is tough being away from my family, but this is a wonderful welcome home.’’
Powerful and versatile with the capability to operate anywhere in the world, the Type 23 frigate is the mainstay of the Royal Navy’s surface fleet. The 13 Type-23 frigates form half of the frigate/destroyer force in the Royal Navy. Originally designed for the principal task of anti-submarine warfare, they have evolved into multi-purpose ships. As well as warfare roles, these ships conduct embargo operations using boarding teams, disaster relief work and surveillance operations.
The ship’s crew is now on leave before returning to prepare the ship for a lengthy in depth refit having deployed four times for six months in the past five years. HMS Somerset will be regenerated and ready for any operations next year.