More than 600 cheering families and friends welcomed the crew of HMS Portland when the ship returned to her home base of HM Naval Base Devonport today.
A Royal Marine band entertained the crowds as they lined the jetty waving colourful banners with their loved one’s names on as the ship drew alongside with the crew standing smartly to attention on the decks.
On the way through The Sound the Type 23 frigate which had spent eight months away from home conducting maritime operations in the Middle East and Indian Ocean , fired her guns in salute to families also waiting on Devil’s Point.
Jackie Haygarth, of Shepton Mallett, stepped off her ship onto the jetty to be met by her sister Teraza Connack and her sister’s children Mollie 3 years, and Riley, five years. Jackie said: “It’s fantastic to be back. I missed my family a lot. I will be spending a lot of my time with them now, especially with Mollie and Riley as they have grown a lot since I left home.. It’s been very hard work being away, but good experience and we did some really good work making the seas a safer.”
Kelly Haughton greeted her partner Able Seaman (Warfare) Chris Crook cuddling their three-month-old daughter Phebe. Kelly, of Tiverton, said: “We were lucky because Chris was allowed home at the end of March for Phebe’s birth, so even though eh was away with the ship and went back, he has seen her crucial first few months.”
Alan Rowe, Leading Seaman (radar operator) of Eggbuckland, Plymouth , was met by his wife Erika and their son Jayden, aged 2 years, and their new daughter Madison aged six weeks. Alan said: “It was a long hot deployment, but we had an eventful eight months deployed with several pirates and drug smugglers hunted down and dealt with. It was a major achievement and what we set out to do. I have missed the children a lot, especially Madison who has changed so much in her short life.”
Erika said: “It’s great to have Alan back again. It seems a very long eight months.
Madison , being so young, has certainly been very clingy to me and hopefully that will lessen now her dad is back and he can catch up. Jayden has been asking where his dad is as well.”
Leading Logistician Andy Chamberlain, of Plympton, Plymouth , was met by his sons new baby Keiran aged 12 months and Ryan, 14, and wife Sarah. Andy served the wardroom’s ship’s officers. He said: “It was a very tiring deployment and seemed so long. But we achieved a lot and it was very worthwhile. It ‘s getting harder to be away now with a young son again. We’ll go walking in the park together and I will play computer games with Ryan.”
Sarah said: “I’m so glad Andy’s back, especially with a baby and a teenage boy to look after.”
Petty Officer Rob Fobbester, of Plymstock, Plymouth , is a steward on board HMS Portland. He was hugged by his delighted children Robert, 3 years, and Beth, five years and his wife Deb. Rob said: “As a ship’s steward I had a very busy deployment with the ship making many diplomatic visits with numerous VIPs on board to host and entertain. I very glad to be back and see my family. We don’t need to go away after my long trip! I just want to stay at home and relax and have quality time with my family. We will be dog walking, playing in the garden and dog walking for a start.”
Since HMS Portland deployed in November 2008, the ship’s company have participated in over 30 successful boardings and intercepts as part of the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) Task Force 151 and 150 in the Northern Arabian Sea , Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa.
The ship also visited Gibraltar , Crete , Oman , the United Arab Emirates , Pakistan , India , Jordan and Malta whilst on deployment and operated with a large number of
Navies from all around the globe. In doing so, HMS Portland travelled a total of 49,500 nautical miles, the equivalent of twice around the world at the equator.
Commander Tim Henry, the captain of HMS Portland, was met by his wife Victoria and his new daughter Izzy (Isabelle) who was born last New Year’s Eve. He said: “I am delighted to be back and see how Izzy has changed. I was lucky enough to be briefly see her when she and her mum flew out to Muscat which was wonderful.”
The ship spent over three quarters of her time away from home at sea on patrol, including Christmas and Easter days. The ship’s company were regularly operating in outside air temperatures approaching 40C; in the machinery spaces these temperatures reached 55C. These blistering temperatures can make weapons and hand rails too hot to hold.
It is estimated that the ship oversaw the destruction of nearly 50 tonnes of drugs and intercepted or disrupted numerous piracy attacks on merchant shipping. The ship was also responsible for the removal and disposal of a significant quantity of arms and ammunition, including Rocket Propelled Grenades and machine guns, from pirates or suspected pirates.
The ship’s aircraft has flown over 170 sorties totalling over 300 hours (the equivalent in flying hours of 25 return flights to New York ) and made more than 400 landings on Portland ‘s flight deck. These missions have included everything from collecting stores, mail and personnel, to maritime security patrols.
Commander Henry said: “Every member of my ship’s company has worked extremely hard, often under the most taxing conditions, throughout this hugely successful deployment. Without their dedication and commitment we would not have been able to achieve the successes that we have; from the cutting edge of counter-piracy operations and maritime security, to flying the flag for the UK and Royal Navy, HMS Portland has been at the forefront of maritime operations in the Northern Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa. All of this, of course, would not have been possible without the continued support and encouragement of our families and friends at home.”
The crew also managed to raise money for charity whilst away with over £5000 being raised through events such as their own version of ‘The Race for Life’ which was completed at sea by all female members of the crew. Also Leading Seaman ‘Skid’ Rowe’s completed a marathon 26.2 miles on a rowing machine, in tropical temperatures, again to raise money for cancer charities.
The crew will now enjoy six weeks’ leave.