THEY have been away from their families for a year. But next month, the crew of Portsmouth warship HMS Mersey will finally return home.
The River-class patrol vessel left Portsmouth in January 2016, heading for the Caribbean before travelling east to the Mediterranean and on to the Aegean.
Originally setting out on a seven-month mission, the crew was re-tasked to support the European effort to tackle the migrant crisis in the Aegean in July.
In total, when the 52 members of Mersey’s ship’s company return to Portsmouth next month they will have been on deployment for 13 months.
Penny Mordaunt, Portsmouth North MP, paid tribute to Mersey’s crew, and said: ‘The work she has done in saving lives and fighting crime is considerable and not just the UK. Many nations around the world owe her their gratitude.’
Mersey began her mission in the north Atlantic, sailing to the Caribbean where she was key in hunting drug gangs blighting the tropical islands.
In April, while working in partnership with the Canadian Navy and the US coastguard, she helped with a £12m drugs bust, where 304kg of narcotics were seized.
The second half of Mersey’s voyage saw her sail to the Aegean – via Gibraltar – to back the Nato-led mission countering the escalating migration crisis.
Mersey worked with Standing Nato Maritime Group 2 during their deployment.
Over the past year, Nato says the action taken by the taskforce – numbering 50 ships from 15 nations – resulted in an 80 per cent reduction in the number of migrants attempting to reach Greece and Turkey.
Commander Will Peters, commander of the navy’s fishery protection squadron, said: ‘The crew of HMS Mersey has shone throughout this fast-paced and demanding deployment.
‘The delivery of their mission was nothing short of exemplary and the strength of camaraderie and team work that exists among the crew has resulted in a hugely successful period of sustained operations at sea.’