FLYING a long, white decommissioning pennant as she gleamed in the spring sunshine, HMS Liverpool sailed into Portsmouth Naval Base for the final time.
After a 30-year career which saw her navigate 921,700 nautical miles around the world, the old Type 42 destroyer spent her final moments at sea in the Royal Navy yesterday.
Sailors lined the deck proudly as the warship, nicknamed the Crazy Red Chicken, approached the jetty under the buzz of a Lynx helicopter whirling overhead in tribute.
The end came six months after the ageing destroyer triumphantly returned from 207 days in action off the coast of Libya – where she became the first UK warship to be fired upon since the Falklands War in 1982.
Appropriately, Liverpool came alongside next to two new Type 45 destroyers – HMS Dragon and HMS Dauntless, which have been built to replace her ageing class.
‘It’s a bittersweet day,’ said Liverpool’s captain, Commander Colin Williams.
He added: ‘We are celebrating the future by saying goodbye to the past.
‘HMS Liverpool, in 30 years, has done a tremendous amount of work for the nation and it has been a real honour to be in command of her both during peace and conflict.
‘I’m looking across at the Type 45s and the future is very bright indeed. It’s time sadly that Liverpool is given a befitting end.’
That end will come on Friday when hundreds of sailors and their families and friends gather at the naval base for Liverpool’s decommissioning ceremony.
The ship’s company, who went through so much together off the coast of Libya last year, are to be split up.
Able Seaman Amy Johnson, 19, who has been with the ship for 18 months, said: ‘It’s been quite eventful to say the least.
‘Libya was an experience I’ll never forget. It was tiring, it was scary at times but you don’t realise how scary it was until you look back and think about how easily we could’ve been hit when they shot at us.
‘Everybody has been on a high ever since that and coming alongside for the last time felt good actually – people are looking forward to the next challenge.’
Able Seaman Robert Clay, 20, said: ‘The ship’s company are great. There’s quite a lot of banter with everyone but there’s no hostility. It gets stressful at times but we’re just like a big family. People are now moving on with their career and it is quite sad in that respect. People have been friends for five or six years and now it’s all over.’
SHIP HAS BEEN IN THE THICK OF THE ACTION SINCE 1982
BUILT by Cammell Laird at Birkenhead, HMS Liverpool was pressed into service early in April 1982 at the start of the Falklands War.
She was sent to the South Atlantic in June 1982 and though she arrived after Argentina had surrendered, she remained there for six months.
In 2003, she took part in the Iraq War as an escort to the carrier HMS Ark Royal.
In 2005, Liverpool was sent to the Caribbean to crack down on drug smuggling.
In 2008, 18 sailors onboard tested positive for cocaine in a routine drug test.
She entered refit in 2009, returning to service in 2010 as an escort to Ark Royal during a tour of the US and Canada. In March last year, Liverpool was sent to the Mediterranean as Libya descended into civil war. During 207 days of operations to enforce a naval blockade and no-fly zone, she became the first Royal Navy ship to be fired upon since the Falklands.
By the time Liverpool came home in November, she had returned fire on pro-Gaddafi troops 10 times and had launched 211 rounds from her 4.5 inch gun.
She took part in a Nato exercise in Norway before returning to Portsmouth for the final time yesterday.