Hundreds of families and friends lined the waterside today to welcome home the crew of the Plymouth-based Royal Navy frigate HMS Northumberland after eight months on patrol deterring pirates and protecting world trade.
To the contrasting sounds of a Royal Naval Merlin helicopter overhead and Her Majesty’s Band Royal Marines on the jetty at HM Naval Base, Devonport, a crowd of more than 400 cheered their loved ones home .
The ship’s commanding officer, Commander Paddy Allen, of Plymouth, was greeted by his parents Noel and Joan, (his wife and children were too ill to meet him). Cdr Allen said: “It has been a fantastic welcome home by hundreds of people on the jetty, a fitting end to a very long tour. The ship’s company deserve such an amazing welcome back home. The families and partners are the unsung heroes back home. Families and friends are the silent support network. They keep things going at home and keep the problems back home away from us on board so it does not distract us from our duty. It is hard for them and we are very grateful.‘’
Since deploying on the 19th April the ship has steamed 49,624 nautical miles or approximately twice around the world on anti-arms, anti-people smuggling and counter-terrorism and piracy deterrence patrol in the Middle East. Piracy attacks have significantly reduced since the ship and her task group have been on-station.
Lieutenant Commander Michael Thomson, in charge of marine engineering on board, was greeted by his overjoyed family and said: “It’s been a long but rewarding deployment. I have been very well supported by my team on board keeping the machinery going which sustains the ship and propels us across the world. It’s great to see my family here on the jetty.”
His family came from Warwick and Newcastle. His wife Debbie and children Lisa, 16, and Laura 2, hugged him as he stepped ashore: Debbie said: “We’ve all missed him a lot. We’re now going to have the best Christmas ever after this long trip away.”
Petty Officer (caterer) Scott Jones, from Truro, Cornwall, was drafted on board only three weeks before the ship left. He was met by his ecstatic family, wife Becky and their three children Amy-Rose, 7, Lola, 4, and Lewis 2 and his mother Wendy who had previously met her second son Dean home from HMS Ark Royal as she entered Portsmouth for the last time. Wendy said: “It’s such an emotional occasion meeting Scott back and I have just done the same with Dean.”
Becky said: “It’s lovely to have Scott back. The girls have had sleepless nights because they are so excited. It is hard with three young children, but I have brilliant family support while he is away. He was drafted at the last minute to sail with the ship which did not leave us much time to arrange for his absence. He has been in the navy for 20 years, so I am sort of used to it in a way. But we all miss him and it is always brilliant when he comes back. He kept telling me he missed the children when he called and emailed while away.”
Regulating Petty Officer Darren Ryan, of Plymouth, was cheered home by his wife Barbara and their children Megan, 13, Dyllan,11, and Elle-Jay, 4,. Barbara said: “It’s really made Christmas special to have Darren home. The children are so excited about having him home.’’ Dyllan: “I’ve missed dad, but he will always play with my X-Box and not let me get on it when he’s home.” Megan said: “II missed dad as well. He is very nice to me and always lets me have my own way when he’s home.”
HMS Northumberland’s commanding officer, Commander Paddy Allen, added: “This has been a hugely challenging deployment, but HMS Northumberland, her embarked Merlin helicopter flight from 829 Naval Air Station Culdrose, and her detachment of Royal Marines can be proud of all they have achieved during a prolonged eight-month operational deployment. I believe that the latest figures for successful piracy
attacks in 2010 clearly indicate that although we have not solved the problem, we have certainly curtailed it and made a significant difference.”
HMS Northumberland spent most of her tasking in the Gulf of Aden and Oman and the Somali Basin in support of Operation Calash, part of a multi-national maritime task force, directed from Bahrain.
The Type 23 frigate has been conducting counter-piracy operations alongside Royal Fleet Auxiliary Fort Victoria and Devonport-based warship HMS Montrose in the Gulf of Aden and along the 1,500-mile Somali coast and adjacent seas. No pirates were directly detained by HMS Northumberland, but patrols by the ship and other EU and coalition forces have seen a marked decrease in the amount of successful attacks in the Somali Basin.
The crew come home to a well-earned Christmas leave period before visiting their affiliate county of Northumberland next year. The ship is also due for a major upgrade period in Devonport.