EMOTIONS ran high this morning as Royal Navy sailors from Portsmouth were reunited with their loved ones after a lengthy deployment at sea.
Families and friends lined jetty of Portsmouth Naval Base as HMS Mersey sailed into port after a 13-month deployment.
The River-class vessel was returning home after tackling drug smugglers and people traffickers across the world.
Wives cried as they were reunited with their loved ones, with children running to greet their parents who they hadn’t seen for months.
And for Toby Storton, the son of the ship’s captain, Lieutenant Commander George Storton, it was an extra special day – it was a chance to celebrate his fifth birthday with his dad.
The excited lad hugged his mum, Elizabeth, as members of the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Portsmouth played happy birthday.
Lt Cdr Storton was the first off the ship and hugged his sons Toby and Olaf, six, as crowds cheered.
Speaking after the reunion, he said: ‘Toby’s birthday was actually yesterday but we’re going to have a big party today.
‘But it is absolutely brilliant to be back. Toby had this big smile and gave me a big hug, But straightaway he told me that he got free sweets which is obviously a highlight.’
Since deploying, Mersey has sailed 48,000 miles, visiting 32 ports in 19 countries and used a whopping two million litres of diesel – enough to drive the average family car 647 times around the world, or to the moon and back 30 times.
She also played a key role in a £12m cocaine bust off the coast of Nicaragua in April and supported the Nato-led mission to combat the migrant crisis.
For Able Seaman Bradley Alderton it was his first time on deployment.
The 21-year-old, from Wick, in West Sussex, said: ‘I’m really happy to see my family again and to have been able to show them around my first ship.
‘Being deployed in the Med has been my first time abroad with the Royal Navy and I can’t wait to tell my family about all my experiences.’
Proud mum Julie Alderton, 46, had wept as she hugged her son.
She said: ‘It’s been hard as a mother to see him go. It was his first deployment and he missed Christmas this year.
‘But we’re all just so incredibly proud of him. There’s just a huge sense of pride.
‘He went into the navy a boy and came out a man. He has completely changed – for the better.’
As well as providing counter narcotic patrols in the Caribbean, Mersey was also able to visit many of the region’s smaller islands and ports – normally inaccessible by larger Royal Navy warships.
The ship welcomed thousands of visitors on board, including presidents, ambassadors and military top brass, as well as hundreds of excited schoolchildren.
While the ship has been at sea for 13 months, the crew have not – they work a routine of two months on shift and one month off.
The ship’s company now have a week off before they return to fishery protection duties in the UK.