BORDER Force crews from Portsmouth were given a hero’s welcome when they returned to the city after saving the lives of hundreds of Syrian refugees.
More than 20 sailors were greeted by their families and friends while the Royal Marines Band provided a rousing reception as they docked at the Portsmouth Naval Base.
Since April the men and women on board patrol boats HMC Protector and HMC Seeker have rescued 1,650 stranded refugees in the Mediterranean as well as apprehended 26 people traffickers.
It was the Border Force’s most ambitious mission, named Operation Triton, and one Protector’s commanding officer, Commander Kevin Toy was immensely proud of.
‘It’s one of the high points of my career,’ he said.
The crews rotated their operations, with two weeks working overseas and two weeks rest back in the UK.
What you have been doing over the last few weeks is important for humanity.Richard Harrington, Minister of Syrian Refugees
They worked alongside Italian military and had a small armed support team from the Royal Marines on board.
Cmdr Toy added: ‘One of the memories that will stick with me is watching the children being taken on to the deck and how bewildered they were by what was going on.
‘Then seeing them being landed on the mainland and realising that they have got a better life ahead of them.’
Higher Officer Jason Harris helped to rescue a small baby, who was lifted from a migrant ship and into his arms.
He added he was stunned by the courage of some migrants.
‘One man had a leg that was broken two years ago. It was quite badly deformed,’ he explained.
‘But it was incredibly moving. His friends were helping him every step of the way.
‘I can’t imagine what he must have been through.’
His partner Lisa West said she was delighted to have him back.
‘I’m just so proud of what he has done,’ she said.
‘I was concerned when he was out there because all I’d heard on the news and seen in the papers about terrorism.
‘So it’s a relief to have him back.’
Greeting the crews was Richard Harrington, Minister of Syrian Refugees.
He said the work the force did to protect the nation was ‘critically important’ but added: ‘What you have been doing over the last few weeks is important for humanity.’
This year has seen more than 2,700 migrants drown while attempting to cross from north Africa to Europe.