The crew of Plymouth-based Royal Naval warship HMS Chatham said goodbye to their ship, after more than 20 years’, at an official decommissioning ceremony yesterday (Tuesday 8th).
The event was staged in the rain alongside the ship in HM Naval Base Devonport in front of about 100 families, friends and VIPs, including civic and other representatives from the vessel’s affiliated town of Chatham. A religious service was conducted by a Royal Naval chaplain and live music by the Band of Majesty’s Royal Marines entertained the audience.
Admiral Sir Ian Forbes, the ship’s first commanding officer, gave the introductory speech during a ceremonial parade and guard comprising the ship’s crew. He described how the newly built ship was the most advanced in the world when he took command.
Prior to the jetty-side ceremony a VIP cocktail party took place on board and the decommissioning cake was cut. by one of the longest serving sailors on board.
The current commanding officer, Commander Simon Huntington, addressed his crew on parade to emphasise his ship’s glorious past and praise them for their contribution to its achievements: “Rather than lament the loss of a fine ship, I urge you to celebrate what she has achieved. In the words of her sponsor Lady Roni Oswald, I know you will find that what Chatham has achieved in the last 20 years is widely admired throughout the Royal Navy. She has been an enormously successful, happy and reliable ship throughout this period and wherever you find yourselves serving next, you can always be extremely proud of what you achieved.’’
Cdr Huntington also looked forward, saying the current ship represented a continuation of the preceding long line and proud history of namesake ships over many decades. In the same way, he saw the next generation of frigates as carrying on this tradition.
Members of the crew will also say farewell to their affiliate town when they exercise their historic right to the Freedom of the Borough of Medway with a special last parade and ceremony through the streets of Chatham in Kent between 11.30am to 12.30am, from the High Street to the council offices on Saturday (12th February).
HMS Chatham has provided 20 years of service to the Royal Navy, employed on operations around the globe in times of conflict, and also contributing to anti-piracy, anti-narcotics and humanitarian operations and the protection of British Overseas Territories. Last year HMS Chatham, returned from a seven-month deployment off the coast of Somalia where she was the lead vessel for Operation Ocean Shield, the NATO contribution to counter-piracy in the area. The crew received accolades for her disaster relief to Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami, while active operations included the Sierra Leone Civil War in 2000 and off the coast of Iraq in 2003. The ship attended the handover of sovereignty for Hong Kong in 1997.
HMS Chatham is one of the Royal Navy’s four Type 22 frigates, all Devonport-based, which are being decommissioned under the Government’s Strategic Defence Review. These ships are the longest serving frigates in the Royal Navy HMS Cornwall, HMS Cumberland and HMS Campbeltown which will continue to support operations in the Middle East and in UK waters until later in the year. Nineteen escorts will then remain in service, including the highly capable Type 45 destroyers and Type 23 frigates.”
HMS Chatham was laid down at Swan Hunters Shipbuilders Ltd in 1986, launched in 1988 and is the last of the four Type 22, Batch 3 frigates. She is the seventh Royal Navy ship to bear the name; one of her predecessors had the honour of transporting the body of Admiral Lord Nelson from HMS Victory to Greenwich Hospital, where he lay in state until his funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral.