Portsmouth-based minehunter HMS Chiddingfold returned home this morning after three years on security patrols in the Arabian Gulf.
The vessel operated out of Bahrain as part of the UK’s commitment to maintain a mine countermeasures presence in the region.
As well as conducting security operations, HMS Chiddingfold carried out regular training with the UK’s regional partners and coalition nations. Her crew of 45 changed approximately every six months - the last taking over in January.
One of the crew’s highlights was a visit to Iraq in April with fellow minehunter HMS Grimsby. The visit to the southern Iraqi Naval Base in Umm Qasr was of particular interest to Chiddingfold’s Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander Charles Maynard and Operations Officer Lieutenant Pete Davis. They both served in Iraq in 2006 and 2008 respectively, providing specialist Naval training to the Iraqi Navy and marines. During the two-day visit they met up with many of the Iraqi sailors they mentored, and saw the significant strides the Iraqi Navy has made in recent years.
Lt Cdr Maynard said: ‘It was wonderful to return to Iraq and to see the progress that is being made by the Iraqi Navy. To take Chiddingfold to Umm Qasr was a real privilege for us all and for Pete and myself to be able to meet with many of the officers and sailors that we previously served alongside was very special. There is a genuine and lasting bond between the Iraqi Navy and the Royal Navy that goes back many years and so to be able to continue that friendship during our visit here has been really important.’
The visit was the last by Royal Navy warships before the training mission was handed over entirely to the Iraqi Navy.
Chiddingfold also played a major role in Exercise Arabian Gauntlet - an annual minehunting exercise with the United States and Pakistani Navies. The exercise demonstrated the ship’s mine countermeasures capability in a multinational and multi-threat environment with Chiddingfold successfully detecting and recovering three drill mines.
The 6,500-mile journey home – in company with HMS Grimsby - has taken the ship through the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, Suez Canal and the Mediterranean.
Chiddingfold’s Navigating Officer, Lt James Way, said: ‘Planning a passage like this is quite a challenge. Chiddingfold and Grimsby are small ships with limited endurance so port stops have to be carefully considered to ensure we don’t run low on fuel and provisions. There have been things that have tested us along the way, not least the south-west monsoon in the Arabian Sea. However, our training and experience has prevailed allowing us to respond to any eventuality we have encountered while continuing to contribute to international maritime security.’
The crew made the most of their spare time during the journey with a run, row and ride challenge, attempting to cover the distance home in the three disciplines to raise money for prostate cancer research.
Lt Cdr Maynard said: ‘It goes without saying that the ship’s company are excited about returning to Portsmouth to be met by family and friends. Now the ship is safely alongside, the crew can look forward to a well deserved period of leave before embarking on a major overhaul of the ship and her propulsion plant.’