COURAGEOUS sailors from Portsmouth were given a heroes’ welcome when they returned home after months fighting terrorists, drug smugglers and people traffickers,
HMS St Albans returned to the city this morning following a testing nine-month deployment policing the seas.
Hundreds of people lined the South Railway Jetty at Portsmouth Naval Base to watch the Type 23 frigate’s triumphant arrival.
The 225 ship’s company have sailed more than 38,000 miles on Operation Kipion working with carrier task groups bombing so-called Islamic State, as well as conducting counter narcotic operations and tackling weapons smugglers.
First to come off the warship – affectionately known as The Saint – was her commanding officer, Commander Richard Hutchings.
Cdr Hutchings, who lives in Portsmouth, was embraced by his three young children, Sophie, James and Freddie.
He said: ‘To be back with my family is an incredible feeling. To spend such a long time away from them has been hard.
‘I’m incredibly proud of the entire ship’s company and all their achievements.’
Son Freddie was thrilled to be reunited with his dad.
He said: ‘I feel really proud of my dad helping to stop the terrorists, to stop the drugs.‘
Younger brother James had been counting the days until his dad’s return.
‘It feels really good that he’s back,’ he said. ‘It’s amazing. I’ve missed him a lot and it’s been a long time.’
It has been a dramatic deployment for St Albans.
Days after she left Portsmouth last year, she achieved her first success of the voyage by seizing 320kg of cannabis with an estimated value of £1m which was destined for European markets.
In the Gulf The Saint integrated into two separate French and United States aircraft carrier strike groups.
She worked alongside the carrier FS Charles de Gaulle following the terrorist attacks in Paris and later the giant USS Harry S Truman. Both carriers were conducting air strikes into Syria and Iraq.
St Albans has visited ports in ten different countries and worked with a multitude of international partners on live operations and exercises.
Exercise Khundjar Hadd involved training alongside the Royal Navy and Air Force of Oman, US Coastguard, US Navy ships and fellow RN mine countermeasures vessels in one of the Gulf’s largest multi-national naval exercises.
Earlier this year the ship came to the rescue of two Pakistani fishermen whose vessel had lost power and was slowly sinking.
The ship’s engineers were unable to repair the stricken craft so both fishermen were safely returned to Pakistan.
A specialist embarked detachment of Royal Marines from 43 Commando conducted numerous boardings of suspicious vessels, working closely with the ship’s own boarding team.
They were supported by the flight team from 829 Squadron and their new Merlin Mk 2 helicopter whose state-of- the-art sensors have given St Albans a major advantage in detecting and identifying suspicious vessels, helping disrupt the flow of illegal goods in the region.
For many of the ship’s company, the deployment is their first on operations.
Among them is Able Seaman Sea Specialist Kieran O’Hara, who said: ‘It’s been good to put all of our training from the past year into practice for real.
‘The highlight of the deployment for me has been working with the USS Harry S Truman carrier strike group and supporting their operations. It’s been a long trip with lots of hard work, so it will be really good to get home and see my family again.’