SAILORS will return to a heroes’ welcome on Friday as their ship sails into Portsmouth after a mission to help those left devastated by a typhoon.
The Royal Navy’s helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious will sail into the city after those on board missed Christmas and the new year with their families to help in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
Her ship’s company were operating in the Gulf when they were diverted to the Philippines to relieve Portsmouth-based Type 45 destroyer HMS Daring which was one of the first on the scene to offer aid.
Illustrious and her 650 crew then spent three weeks delivering emergency aid supplies and repairing broken infrastructure.
Captain Mike Utley, the ship’s commanding officer, said: ‘Our capabilities perfectly matched what was required in the Philippines.
‘We were able to get to where we were needed quickly and our size and flexibility meant we could store and distribute extremely large volumes of emergency aid supplies.
‘The people in the Philippines are extremely resilient, but it was clear to me that those in the worst-hit areas had been through a lot.
‘We believe we set in excess of 40,000 people firmly on the road to recovery.’
Friday’s homecoming will not be the helicopter carrier’s last before she is decommissioned later this year.
The warship will undergo a period of maintenance in Portsmouth before deploying again.
Able Seaman Emma Whitty joined the ship only two days before it left Portsmouth for her first deployment since joining the navy 14 months ago.
The 22-year-old, from Fareham, said: ‘We’re all pleased to be home.
‘Being away for Christmas and the new year was tough on our families. Both of my parents were in the Royal Navy though and they understand.
‘We’ve got a lot of catching up to do after what we hope will be a very special homecoming.’
HMS Illustrious is due to pass the Round Tower in Old Portsmouth at 12.25pm.