The Royal Navy frigate HMS Somerset was welcomed back home to Plymouth by hundreds of cheering families and a romantic proposal today after a successful patrol policing Middle East policing shipping lanes.
The warm welcome to Devonport Naval Base by 600 family and friends included sailor Leading Engineering Technician Christopher Chris Barker, 30, going on bended knee on the jetty in front of the crowd and his shipmates to ask his partner, Donna Richards, 28, to marry him.
As his friends held up a professional banner on board they had designed – he pointed out the proposal to Donna – Chris made the romantic gesture and handed her an engagement ring. The couple, from Welshpool have been together for some time and have a son, Owen (9).
Chris was delighted she accepted and said: “I was really nervous and I’m glad its over now. But it’s fantastic she said yes. I’ve been planning this for some time and had the support of my mates on board which helped.’’ Donna, a social worker, said: “I’m overwhelmed – I can’t believe it. I had no idea he was planning this. But its amazing and of course I said yes.’’
The ship has been engaged in a wide range of maritime security operations designed to deter, disrupt illegal use of the sea to protect maritime security and secure freedom of navigation and trade for all nations. A major highlight includes the seizure of 55 Kg of illegal drugs in the Indian Ocean and flying the Royal Navy’s latest airborne capability, ScanEagle, for the first time.
HMS Somerset’s Commanding Officer, Commander Mike Smith said: “My ship’s company have been very professional and worked extremely hard to make this a successful deployment. It’s the icing on the cake to have such a warm welcome from hundreds of people on the jetty. We all have the pressures of separation while being away and we accept that as part of the job. But I understand its harder for those left behind at home and I thank them all. Its also added to the occasion to see one of my ship’s company propose to his partner on the jetty and we all had our fingers crossed it was accepted – which it was.’’
He added: “HMS Somerset returns alongside in the UK having had a challenging but extremely successful six months conducting operations across the Middle East. The most obvious single example of our success was the drugs seizure after stopping and boarding a suspicious vessel.’’
Leading seaman Daniel Thurgood, of Camborne, Cornwall, was met by his mother Sally and fiancée Jade and their three girls Ruby, five, Erin, 4, and Imogen, 18 months. Danial said: “It was a long deployment. And I’ve been looking forward to this moment for a long time while away. All the girls have grown a lot especially little Imogen. We will be doing the usual holiday things now like going on the beach with them.’’
Sally said: “It’s so good to see him. We’ve all missed him so much. The girls have been going on about when they’ll see him next. It’s been hard work with three little girls, but things will be better now with some help.’’
ScanEagle is an unmanned aerial system that provides covert surveillance capability for up to 10 hours at a
time. UAS Commander, Lieutenant Rudi Lorenz said: ‘It is extremely rewarding to have completed the first operational ScanEagle deployment in a Type 23. This will stand maritime unmanned aerial systems in good stead for the future.”
Coming to the end of her first deployment in the Royal Navy as the youngest member of the crew, Engineering Technician Charlotte Asken, from Lincolnshire, said: “Being operationally deployed so far away from home is challenging, but hugely rewarding.” Adding: “Our post deployment leave will give us time to catch up with life at home and reflect upon what we have achieved whilst away.”
HMS Somerset has had a Lynx Mk8 helicopter embarked throughout the deployment. The flight will leave the Ship on return to UK. Prior to leaving HMS Somerset Leading Air Engineering Technician Daniel Cook said: “This busy yet challenging deployment has lived up to everything I had hoped. The final drugs bust was the icing on top of the cake.’’ While his boss Chief Petty Officer James Gunn added: “Of all the Operation Kipion deployments I have completed, this has been by far the most worthwhile.”
A number of HMS Somerset’s crew have become proud new parents whilst deployed, including Lieutenant Chris Fox, 28, HMS Somerset’s Navigating officer, became a dad. Baby Lili Nicole was born on 11th April in Southampton. Mother, Daisy Fox (28), and baby are doing well and will be awaiting the Ship’s return on 4th July. Lt Fox, who lives in Hythe, New Forest, said: “The ship worked hard to ensure that I was able to get home to support my family, despite a busy operational schedule; this is testament to the HMS Somerset’s strong focus on supporting people.’’
Lieutenant Scott Sabin, 25, from Banbury, the ship’s intelligence officer, got engaged to fiancée Paula Louise Sullivan, 24, in Dubai, after 3 ½ years together. He popped the question on the spur of the moment.
Able Seaman Caleb Eisenberg (25) from Wallasey, also proposed in Dubai, on the Burj Al Arab private beach.
Caleb purchased an engagement ring in the UAE after deciding to propose after sailing from Devonport in January. Jessica Kewley, 22, and he are due to marry.
HMS Somerset has maintained a presence in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf since early 2014. During her six months as part of Operation Kipion she has been engaged in a wide range of Maritime Security Operations including Counter Narcotics, Counter Piracy, Boarding Operations, International exercises and escort duties.
Commodore Keith Blount, Commander of the UK Maritime Component Command (UKMCC), based in Bahrain said: ‘Since her arrival in the Gulf, HMS Somerset has made a significant contribution to Operation Kipion, in both a Counter Narcotics and Counter Piracy capacity. The Type 23 Frigate is perfect for the nature of the operations we conduct here, and this was proven by Somerset and her crew seizing one of the Royal Navy’s largest drug hauls in the region during her tour.’
HMS Somerset has steamed almost 27,000 miles in the 176 days since leaving the UK. The ship’s chefs have used 7,300 Kg of potatoes, 16,080 sausages, 34,140 eggs, 4,603 chickens and the crew have eaten 2,894 Kg of beef (the equivalent of 4.5 cows).The crew will now enjoy well-earned leave on arrival home, before the ship undergoes a comprehensive maintenance package in in Devonport.