Hundreds of families and friends welcomed home South West based warship HMS Portland today (Tuesday 16 November) from a successful total seven-month deployment to the South Atlantic, Eastern Pacific and Caribbean Sea.
The Devonport-based Type 23 frigate was deployed to the Falkland Islands for four months as the Atlantic Patrol Task (South) ship and sailed over 32,000 miles to include circumnavigating South America, transiting the Magellan Straits, Patagonian and Panama Canals and sailing the length and breadth of the Atlantic with two crossings of the Equator.
HMS Portland’s commanding officer, Commander Mike Knott said: “ In a busy but extremely rewarding seven months HMS Portland has achieved a great deal, not only enhancing peace and stability within the South Atlantic and West African regions, but also contributing to the fight against cocaine trafficking and narco-terrorism. I am extremely proud of my ship’s company which has made a positive impact everywhere we have visited and represented the United Kingdom and Royal Navy in the finest traditions of the service.
After travelling over 32,000 miles and visiting 11 countries you cannot put into words how wonderful it is for the crew to meet up again with their families who have not seen them for such a long period of time. I am always so proud of how the ships company deals with the strain of being away from their loved ones.”
HMS Portland sailed from Devonport in April and en-route to the Falkland Islands conducted a four-day defence diplomacy visit to Rio de Janiero in Brazil including hosting high-profile events such as UKtrade and investment defence industry day where lucrative contracts for British businesses were signed and a peace support operations conference hosted for the British ambassador.
The ship’s role was to provide a maritime presence to protect the UK’s interests in the region, to reassure UK Overseas Territories, Commonwealth countries and other friendly nations, and acts as a deterrent to potential aggressors. The ship took part in joint exercises with the Army and RAF and conducted visits to the settlements around the Falkland Islands including South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
Six members of the Welsh Guards were embarked as the duty Falkland Islands infantry company which conducted foot patrols ashore. The dramatic scenery and remote landscape will be long remembered by the ship’s company as the ship encountered icebergs, glaciers, stunning mountains and fascinating local wildlife, including Fur Seals, Elephant Seals and many penguins.
After the Falkland Islands, HMS Portland was honoured by a fantastic ceremonial send-off from the people and aircraft of the Mount Pleasant Complex, the Falkland Islands’ military base.
The ship then navigated the Magellan Straits and Pategonian Canals on the South West coast of Chile on her way to Valparaiso for the Chile 200th anniversary celebration. The event was marked by a multi-national naval exercise and an international fleet review; attended by President Sebastian Pinera and the Royal Navy’s First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope.
On her voyage to Chile HMS Portland carried a special cargo of three church bells originally from a church in Santaigo destroyed by fire 150 years ago. The bells were saved and shipped to a church in Oystermouth, Wales, where they had been on display until this year. HMS Portland and RFA Black Rover shared the transport of the bells from the UK to return them to Chile and their return on this patrol was part of the 200 th anniversary celebrations.
HMS Portland’s conducted a five-day visit to Lima, Peru, including a defence industries day on behalf of UK Trade and Industry, and a visit by James Brokenshire MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary for Crime Reduction ; further raising the Royal Navy’s profile in South America and helping to strengthen co-operation with Peru in the fight against cocaine trafficking and associated terrorism.
After Peru HMS Portland took part in counter narcotics tasking in the Pacific, before heading east through the Panama Canal. It is unusual in the 21 st Century for Royal Navy ships to spend much time in the Pacific and for most people onboard this was the first time that they experienced the 51-mile Panama Canal transit.
At the start of November Portland spent four days training the Ghanaian Navy in maritime security operations and hosted local and diplomatic guests onboard. Members of the crew also visited the Ghanaian Jungle Warfare School, deep in the Ghanaian jungle, while others helped restore the classrooms of a local school.
On the return passage to the UK Portland embarked 50 friends and family of the crew to catch up with their loved ones and gain a short experience of life at sea in HMS Portland, sailing from Las Palmas, the families were able to see what happens on board the ship, including how they dealt with rough weather through the Bay of Biscay.
One family waiting alongside was Steve and Anne Moses, waiting with them as well were six other members of the family who had all travelled down from Grimsby and were waiting for PTI Robert Moses to disembark. Mum Anne said “we have absolutely missed him to bits and we can’t wait to get home and have a big party to celebrate. Seven months is a long time for him to be away, I am so glad to see him home.”
Meanwhile on board, Steward Nathan Buckley was waiting anxiously to cuddle his son, Finley, whom he had not seen since being present at his birth. Finley was waiting alongside in his own sailor’s uniform and dad soon gave him a big hug.
Chef Heidi Telford, from Plymouth also had family waiting alongside and took no time in meeting up and getting a well deserved hug from them.