The Royal Navy warship HMS Sutherland has returned to the UK to a rapturous welcome from 300 families and friends after a successful six-month patrol in the Middle East and Indian Ocean
The ship was greeted by cheering and waving families wearing festive hats and holding banners with loving messages at HM Naval Base, Devonport, Plymouth on Saturday (15 December). The ship’s Culdrose-based Merlin Helicopter flight arrived back separately at the Helston air station on Friday (14 December).
HMS Sutherland has been busy conducting anti-piracy and terrorism patrols as part of combined maritime forces, ensuring the sea lanes and waters East of Suez and off the Horn of Africa are safe for seafarers to conduct their daily business.
The ship conducted boarding operations on suspect vessels and also reassurance visits to build relationships with mariners and obtain information on pattern of life in the area. The crew also exercised with coalition and allied forces in the region to strengthen ties and improved methods of working together.
HMS Sutherland’s captain, Commander Al Wilson, said it was a ‘magic’ time to come home at Christmas. He added: “The huge variety and diversity of task that Sutherland has fulfilled whilst on operations illustrates the inherent flexibility of the Royal Navy in protecting and promoting UK interests worldwide, whether it is preventing piracy or terrorism at sea or strengthening bonds with regional allies.
“However, I could not have achieved this without an efficient, capable and highly motivated ship’s company and, as always, I am highly proud of what my team has achieved over the last six months whilst remaining cheerful and utterly professional throughout. My team and myself are now looking forward to spending Christmas at home with our loved ones.”
Able Rate (Communication Information Specialist) Peter Hodgkin said: “HMS Sutherland is my first ship and I joined her three months prior to deploying on operations. With this being my first deployment and first time away from the UK I was nervous, but excited. There have been some tough times, but overall I have really enjoyed it, especially the team spirit of the ship and all the good work that we have achieved on operations. My most memorable moment was helping out at an orphanage in Tanzania.”
HMS Sutherland has also been home for the past six months to the aircrew and engineers from a group of personnel from 829 Naval Air Squadron from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose, Cornwall, and with their Merlin helicopter.
The team, headed by Lieutenant Earl Kingston, has been patrolling thousands of miles of ocean in temperatures reaching over 40 degrees C, ensuring the safe passage of vessels. With their two Royal Marines embarked, the aircrew scoured shorelines and oceans for suspicious vessels, provided protection for boarding operations, conducted lifting of stores from supply and airlifted various compassionate cases into various countries.
The flight’s engineers have had a particularly challenging time, having to maintain the aircraft in hangar temperatures of over 50 degrees and 90% humidity. The flight were due home at Culdrose to a warm welcome.
Having handed over duties to sister ship HMS Northumberland, at the end of November the crew of HMS Sutherland is now looking forward to spending Christmas at home and time with families and friends before a busy 2013.