THE crew of the Royal Navy warship HMS Portland returned home to a rapturous welcome in Plymouth today (Friday) after a successful seven-month deployment to West Africa, the Falkland Islands and the Caribbean.
More than 600 happy family members and friends cheered and waved greetings banners on the jetty at HM Naval Base Devonport, accompanied by Devonport Volunteer Band.
Lieutenant Commander Rob Brann, the ship’s executive officer said: “It has been a huge honour to bring Portland home, but more importantly, to re-unite the families with their loved ones.’’ He added: “Without the support of these friends and families, HMS Portland could not have achieved so much. I am extremely proud of what HMS Portland has achieved throughout this operational deployment. This success demonstrates the versatility of a deployed Royal Navy warship and is directly attributable to the people on board; a highly professional team.”
As a reward for the children of HMS Portland’s crew, miniature medals that say “My Little Hero” were worn as they welcomed home their parents. These have been designed to say thank you to the children for coping with the absence of their parent for seven months.[ Waiting on the jetty for the ship’s arrival were eight babies born during the deployment and one baby who will meet her grandfather for the first time.
A very special visitor was waiting for her granddad on the jetty – granddaughter Freya, aged only three months, was born half way through the patrol. Freya’s grandfather, the ship’s warrant officer in the weapons engineering department, who lives in Saltash, admitted to crying at the emotional meeting. He said: “It’s fantastic to see Freya and all my family. This is the first time I’ve seen her and she’s beautiful. We had a very busy deployment, but it’s so good to be back home.’’
The petty officer in the underwater warfare department on board, was rushed off his feet by his two sons, aged five and six, as they greeted him enthusiastically on the jetty. The happy father said: “I’m so pleased to see my two children again. We’re all looking forward to going camping in Norfolk for the holidays.’’
He added: “The deployment was very worthwhile. We achieved a lot diplomatically in Africa and working and training with other navies.’’
HMS Portland has undertaken maritime security operations including counter narcotics and anti piracy patrols in the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.
The ship has also participated in multi national maritime exercises with Navies from 15 nations, strengthening the UK’s Defence relationships, while working together to ensure freedom of navigation and trade for all nations.
In West Africa in the early part of the deployment HMS Portland conducted defence engagement activities with a number of maritime security conferences hosted onboard, aimed at improving regional co-operation to tackle illicit maritime activity in and around the Gulf of Guinea During port visits, the ship’s company used their expertise to train sailors from West African nations in exclusive economic zone security, fire-fighting and damage-control, boarding techniques and basic infantry skills.
This training is helping to build the capacity of the UK’s allies to enhance the conduct of effective maritime security operations in their own waters.
The port visits were also used to assist local communities; teams of sailors volunteered to help with basic maintenance and the painting of hospitals and schools. One such project was at the Walvis Bay Kids Haven, which is a home for orphaned and vulnerable children from the Erongo region of Namibia. The British High Commission sponsored a play ground at the home and sailors from HMS Portland finished the project by providing a play facility for the children.
A mid deployment maintenance period in South Africa was a highlight for many of the crew. As well as the completion of a maintenance period, some families joined their relatives for some leave, while others took part in climbing Table Mountain, shark diving, sub-aqua diving and sky-diving.
The ship spent four weeks patrolling the waters around the Falkland Islands. Personnel explored the natural beauty of Grytviken and saw abundant wildlife in South Georgia. Crew also took part in memorial services in the Falklands to remember all those who lost their lives during the 1982 conflict.
In the Caribbean HMS Portland embarked a United States Coast Guard law enforcement team for four weeks of counter narcotic patrols to disrupt the flow of drugs into Europe and America. The presence of HMS Portland in the area acted as a deterrent, preventing the transportation of drugs by sea.
Throughout the deployment the ship’s sports teams have played varying teams from different countries at football, netball, rugby and American flag football. In Ghana, the rugby team enjoyed a coaching session with the Ghanaian national 7s team who were preparing for the Confederation of African Rugby 7’s competition.
Thirty runners braved the winter weather conditions in the Falklands in a charity 10K and a half marathon. The team of chef’s onboard HMS Portland have been kept busy throughout the deployment producing 195,636 meals.
HMS Portland has visited 17 countries and steamed 31,400 nautical miles, consuming 3,571,000 litres of fuel, which is enough fuel to fill 62516 family cars.
The Ship’s Company will now enjoy a period of leave before returning to conduct vital maintenance on HMS Portland in order to prepare her for future operations.