Hundreds of happy friends and families welcomed their loved ones home as they sailed into HM Naval Base Devonport, Plymouth, on board HMS Somerset today after more than six months deployed abroad. About 500 thronged the jetty cheering and waving welcome banners, including one proposal, while a Royal Marine Band serenaded the Type 23 frigate and entertained the crowd in the sunshine.
The frigate sailed on 21 January to join the Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2) in the Mediterranean where she has been the UK ‘s representative on Operation Active Endeavour – the continuous NATO operation to prevent maritime crime. Her duties included deterring the smuggling of arms, drugs and people by criminal and terrorist groups.
Lieutenant Commander Steve Quantrill, the ship’s logistics (or supply) officer, from Starcross, Devon , was greeted by his wife Natalie and their son Ruari, aged five months. Steve said: “I have had homecomings before, but this is an extra special one for me with Ruari meeting me for the first time. He is wonderful. I was allowed to fly home for his birth, but that was a long time ago for me and especially in the life of a baby. I am so pleased to be back home with my new family.”
Natalie said: “I have obviously missed Steve a lot. It might be a mix feeling for him though, now he has to get used to all those nappies now, just I have.”
Marine Engineer Petty Officer Dean Hughes, from Plymouth , was greeted by his son Joshua, ten months, and fiancée Kelly. Kelly, a communications specialist in the Royal Navy who also previously served on board HMS Somerset, said: “I have missed Dean for every day of the six months. It’s great he’s back. It’s extra hard him being away now being a mum, but as a sailor I understand the demands of being away.”
Dean said: “I have really missed Kelly and Joshua. But it was a successful deployment. The highlight for me was visiting Haifa in Israel .”
Richard Moores, 28, of Stoke-on-Trent , was met by his parents Joyce and Alan, sister Lisa Moores, with her son Louis-James Moores, aged 3, and his second sister Karen Stefani and her son Mitchell.
Richard said he really enjoyed the deployment. He has been in the Royal Navy for two years and this was his first ship. Lisa said: “We have really missed him. It’s great he’s back home.”
Able seaman Lisa Campbell, 21, a stores accountant, from Plymouth , stepped off her ship to be met by her family and was immediately handed her new niece Rhiannon who she met for the first time because he was born two months ago when she was at sea. Lisa said: “It’s so brilliant to be back to see my family, especially to see Rhiannon – she’s gorgeous, exactly as I expected.”
Lisa enjoyed her first deployment: “It was wonderful. I really liked meeting the foreign ships like the Italians and the Greeks and visiting Malta .”
Lisa was met by her father Steven and her sister Tracey Cooke and her husband Colin Cooke. Tracey said: It’s lovely to have her back.”
Able Seaman Chris White, 21, a warfare specialist on board HMS Somerset, said his first deployment lived up to his expectations: “It was great. We exercised with the Turkish, German and Italian ships. I swam in the Dead Sea and visited Slovenia, Israel and Turkey”. His mother Beverley and mother Jenny welcomed him home on the jetty.
Commander Rob Wilson, HMS Somerset’s commanding officer, was met by his wife Tara and children Lizzie, 9, Alice , 5, and Morgan, 4 on the jetty. His older daughter Tabitha, 12, sailed into the docks on board her father’s ship. Rob, of Portsmouth, said of Tabitha: “She had a wonderful time playing on all the equipment and having a go at operating all sorts. I’d say she would be an asset to the Navy.”
He was also delighted with his ship’s achievements: “Our six-month secondment to NATO’s Standing Maritime Group has been challenging, fun and rewarding. Integrating different nations into an efficient fighting unit has taken time, practice and patience, but we leave the force with a far better understanding of our partner nations’ ethos, procedures and capabilities, having contributed fully to the ongoing maritime policing and defence diplomacy effort in the Mediterranean region.
“This deployment has demanded much of my sailors and they have delivered in every regard. They have proven to be excellent ambassadors for the Royal Navy and nation – I am fiercely proud of each and everyone of them.”
In addition to maritime security and intelligence-gathering patrols the deployment has been filled by a number of large-scale maritime exercises aimed at improving collective operational capability amongst the NATO allies. The ship’s patrol included the largest anti-submarine exercise where HMS Somerset was unmatched in her ability to hunt ‘enemy’ submarines, to the Italian Navy’s top exercise when again the ship was primarily used as an anti-submarine picket.
In all these operations, the ship’s embarked a Fleet Air Arm Lynx helicopter, based at RNAS Yeovilton, in the county of Somerset which proved to be a weapon of devastating ability, able to track down and engage these adversaries at great distances from the ship.
In between these patrols and exercises HMS Somerset took part in a defence diplomacy programme, visiting nine countries and 28 ports. Many of these visits have been part of NATO’s Partnership for Peace initiative, the aim of which is to encourage non-NATO nations to join the efforts to create a safer and more secure maritime environment.
HMS Somerset will conduct a brief period of maintenance before sailing in September for a series of exercises. This period will also be used to catch up with the ship’s many friends and affiliations in the County of Somerset . The crew take particular pride in the close links they have with councils, schools, sea cadet units and other bodies within the county.