HMS Ocean, the Royal Navy’s fleet flagship, has returned from a six-month patrol today (Friday) to her baseport in Devonport, Plymouth, to an ecstatic welcome from close to 2,000 family and friends.
Captain Rob Pedre, the ship’s captain, paid tribute to his ‘highly professional’ crew and the ‘dedicated’ families who help made the ship’s penultimate deployment successful: “It’s great to be back to Devonport to such an amazing welcome from many hundreds of happy friends and families on the jetty.
“It’s a huge honour to bring HMS Ocean home after such an historic and remarkable operational deployment to the Middle East. I am particularly proud of how my ship’s company, their committed dedication to duty, professionalism and good humour, have delivered the fleet flagship through a challenging programme and reinforced the reputation of the Royal Navy as a capable, world-class fighting force.’’
He added: “I’d also like to pay tribute to the stalwart support we have all had from our families and friends who have remained back in the UK, which is invaluable and hugely appreciated. Everyone is delighted to be back with their loved ones again – as can be seen by the large emotional crowds.’’
Captain Pedre said the patrol was historic for the length of the deployment and because of the command role of the ship for Commander Task Force 50 in the Gulf – the first Royal Navy warship to take on this role with the American fleet which usually takes this lead role from one of their carriers. He said their spell in charge of the force has served as a vital stepping stone when it comes to operating the UK’s new aircraft carriers in the region in the future.
Petty Officer Chris Orkney rushed off the ship to be met by his cheering wife Nicola and their children Declan, (three years), who is recovering from a heart condition, and baby Locklan (one year) and his parents-in-law Pauline and Tom Williams.
Chris, from near Morpeth, is planning a ‘yomp’ from HMS Ocean in Plymouth with shipmates to Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital where Declan had his operation, in aid of the family unit and Children’s Heart Foundation charity. The yomp will be in mid-May. Chris hugged Declan and gave him a mini version of his operational medal and said: “It’s amazing to see everyone and especially Declan who is a hero for recovering so well from his heart op. I’m so happy to catch up with them after a very rewarding deployment.’’
Nicola said: “Declan’s such an upbeat and ever happy star. He’s having a check-up soon to see if his op has been long term successful. He’s been looking forward to seeing his dad. And it’s lovely to have him back to keep the children amused, and to go swimming. He’s missed Locklan beginning walking and Declan starting nursery and their birthdays and Christmas – so a lot to catch up with.’’
Diane and her children Matthew (eight) and Freya (five), met Major Ed Robinson (an Army physiotherapist) from the ship after three months away. Diane, from Shropshire, said: “The children have been a handful, so it will be good to have an extra pair of hands to help with them. They accept him being away because they are so young, but it could be less easy to convince them when they are older when he’s away. They are looking forward to playing rugby with him and playing video games, while Matthew likes everything to do with eating.’’
HMS Ocean has been playing its full multi-roles including the flight deck being used by every helicopter type in the region: “You name it, we’ve had it on the deck this deployment,” says aircraft handler CPO Paddy Ashe, a survivor of the Atlantic Conveyor sinking in the Falklands 35 years ago. “And that’s a really good experience for the lads.”
As a helicopter assault ship, HMS Ocean, or the Mighty O as she is known, has operated helicopters Merlin Mk2 and Sea King Mk7, Chinooks and Apaches from the Navy, RAF and Army to protect the force from threats above, on and below the waves.
The final confirmation of the RN’s ability to direct aircraft carrier strike operations – looking forward to the new Queen Elizabeth ships joining the Royal Navy fleet – was a three-day exercise in the central Gulf involving four navies, 19 ships and ten helicopters.
“We have pushed the boundaries of what we can operate,” says Capt Pedre. “This deployment will stand us in good stead with the Queen Elizabeth.”
Other highlights of the deployment include the ship hosting Prime Minister, Theresa May, in Bahrain ahead of her attendance at the Gulf Co-operation Council Conference; engaged in significant amphibious exercises with Albania and supported UK Trade through the promotion of UK exports overseas.
At all times HMS Ocean remained the UK high-readiness helicopter carrier and amphibious assault ship; ready for national tasking at five-days’ notice should the need arise. During the deployment HMS Ocean has steamed over 23,000 miles, visited 11 countries, provided a platform for six British Ambassadors and High Commissioners to promote UK interests and exports through high level diplomacy and at times been home for up to 1,150 service personnel from the UK and partner nations.
Personnel will go on leave on arrival before returning to Devonport to prepare for a final visit to their affiliated city of Sunderland which will be followed by a NATO deployment to the Mediterranean later this year.