TWO Royal Navy minehunters returned to their home ports today after three-year deployments to the Gulf.
More than 100 family members and friends gave Sandown-class ship HMS Pembroke a rousing reception in Scotland as she sailed into Clyde Naval Base.
And similar numbers lined the waterfront at Portsmouth to cheer in Hunt-class vessel HMS Middleton.
The warship’s arrival home was marked with a flypast by a de Havilland Chipmunk trainer and a Hawker Sea Fury from the Royal Navy Historic Flight – and when Middleton went alongside the spotlight turned to Keith Williams, who proposed to his girlfriend Nicola Griffiths-Hayes.
Nicola, we are happy to say, accepted.
Pembroke and Middleton comprised half of the Royal Navy minehunter force operating out of Bahrain, conducting counter-piracy and security patrols and exercises with coalition forces.
The crews of the two ships changed every six to eight months, and the tough conditions and high tempo of operations and exercises have kept everyone on their toes –temperatures in high summer can exceed 50 degrees Celsius, and at certain times of the year the Gulf could be mistaken for the North Sea, with grey waves of 15-20ft and winds gusting to 50mph.
The voyage home for the two ships was not without incident, as they were called on by stricken container ship MV News Delhi Express to provide protection from potential pirate attacks as her crew worked to repair the 40,000-tonne ship’s engines after a major breakdown in ‘Pirate Alley’ in the Gulf of Aden.
Pembroke and Middleton also visited Malta to help mark the 70th anniversary of the Pedestal convoy, which both delivered practical aid to the besieged island and helped lift the spirits of the islanders and Allies alike.
“It is an absolute privilege to sail back into the Clyde with Pembroke and crew three,” said Commanding Officer Lt Cdr Chris Allan.
“The deployment has been immensely rewarding both professionally in terms of our contribution to the ongoing mine countermeasures effort and for the challenge of the long passage home for a small ship.
“The ship and the team are incredibly hard working and it is their effort which has made this deployment such a success.”
The quartet of minehunters currently on duty in the Gulf consists of two Hunts, HM ships Quorn and Atherstone, and two Sandowns, HM ships Shoreham and HMS Ramsey.