The Royal Navy survey ship HMS Echo returned home to HM Naval Base, Devonport, Plymouth, (Thursday 16 August) after a 19-month deployment. Joyous families waved and cheered as the crew of the sophisticated ocean survey warship entered the naval base for a period of well-earned leave.
Three of the crew have got married and seven babies born since the ship has been away. The crew is rotated while on deployment, so all sailors had leave periods ashore in between shifts on board.
Commander Matt Syrett, commanding officer of HMS Echo, stepped ashore and was welcomed by his wife and two children. He paid tribute to his crew for their professionalism and families for their support.
The Plymouth-born former Tavistock and Plymouth College student, of SE Cornwall, said: “It is great to be back home and to see all the families here. The crew is rotated, so everyone gets periods of leave. 19 months is far too long to serve at sea. So the rotation means the crew are in good spirits and have therefore, delivered operational success much to their credit. This also works to keep families happy as you can see today.”
He highlighted achievements such as deterring unexpected potential piracy activity when the ship’s saluting gun was used as a successful warning, surveying undersea volcanoes and mapping a huge sub-sea mount the size of Gibraltar.
Petty Officer (Surveyor) Andrew Lane, from Newcastle-on-Tyne, swept his daughters Matilda, 3, and Jemima, 1, into his arms as they ran to greet him on the jetty. He said: “It’s fantastic to be back and see my family. The girls have changed. I missed a large chunk of Jemima’s life especially. They are excited to see me and so am I to see them. It was a long and hard deployment, but a brilliant thing to do and we achieved a lot.’’
His wife Sarah and mother Judith also travelled from Newcastle to Plymouth where they will be moving in a fortnight so they will be nearer the naval base. Sarah said: “We are all looking forward to spending quality time together as a family and going camping. It’s been hard looking after two little girls, but we’ll have fun now.”
Julie Smith, of Keighley, W Yorkshire, met her son Able Seaman (hydrographer) Jake Smith, 28, of Skipton off the ship. He has only been in the Royal Navy one year and HMS Echo is his first ship and when his girlfriend Jeanette flew out to see him in Malta he surprised her by proposing marriage and she accepted.
Julie was joined in the welcoming party by her other children Chloe, 23, and Alex, 25. Julie said: “Jake was very romantic proposing like he did as a surprise in Malta. It is his first deployment on a ship and he’s loved it. We have been in touch by email and calls, but it is great to have him back home at last after six months away.’’ Alex said: “We’ve missed him a lot. It’s great to have him back home.”
The ship has been away for 593 days with 421 actually at sea and has sailed about 74,000 miles – 2.5 times around the equator. The ship made 24 stops in 11 nations and 13 different ports including Valletta, Salalah, Limassol, Gibraltar, Bahrain, Mina Rashid, Dubai, Jebel Ali, Mombasa, Mumbai, Seychelles, Haifa (the first RN ship to visit Israel in four years) and Tripoli (a rare visit by a Royal Naval ship).
The ship’s survey work of little-charted waters has also enabled other ships and task forces to operate safely and confidently. This has included working with Plymouth-based HMS Albion on the largest Royal Naval exercise last year and other units on regular maritime policing patrols in the Middle East.
Petty Officer (caterer) John Farrington, of Torpoint, was delighted to see his daughter Kate and her son Myles, aged one year, as he touched dry land. John hugged Myles who was dressed in a special sailor suit and said: “It’s really nice to see the family again. I have missed little Myles after a few months which seems a long time. He has already grown.’’ His wife Ann said: “He’s been 23 years in the Navy so you get used to John being away. But it’s different now with the baby – it makes it harder now for him and Kate when he is away.”
HMS Echo surveyed over 3,150 square miles, the equivalent to the area of Cyprus, conducted 181 sea bed samples, the deepest of which was 974m, and 986 surveys using sound. Meanwhile, the ship flew the flag on visits providing an opportunity for the crew to rest, with Haifa being a popular destination. Many of the crew attended a tour of Jerusalem’s Old City, a highlight of the deployment for many.
Emergency drills included 78 fire and flood exercises, 81 man-overboard exercises and 200 sets of breakdown drills; 600 litres of paint were used to maintain the ship, exceeding the 400 litres of ice cream eaten.
The ship’s crew played football against eight different nations and the record was lost 10, drew 1 and won 2, the biggest win was 5-2 against Jebel Ali team and biggest loss was 9-1 against a Maltese side. Other nations played included: China, Libya, Oman, India, UAE, Kenya, Malta and the RAF in Cyprus. The following food and drink was consumed: eggs 2,340 dozen, teabags 47,850, flour 6,900kg, potatoes 9,870kg , beef 6,048kg and chocolate cake 1,920 pieces.
The ship has enjoyed a community spirit enhanced by social events on many weekends and the ship’s company raising money for charity. The generous sailors raised £1,200 for charities through a wide range of events.