A WARSHIP which sailed into the Royal Navy’s record books after seizing £200m worth drugs in a single deployment has returned home to a hero’s welcome.
HMS Dragon was greeted by an enormous crowd of more than 1,000 people as she arrived back in Portsmouth following her seven-month stint in the Middle East.
During her time at sea, the Type 45 carried out carried out eight successful raids, taking an astounding 18,400kg of narcotics – more than was seized in a year by the entire UK police force.
Dragon’s commanding officer Commander Michael Carter-Quinn was full of praise for his crew as they arrived back at Portsmouth Naval Base.
Carrying his young son, Mark, in his arms, Cdr Carter-Quinn said: ‘It really is great to be home. It's been a long and exceptionally busy seven months.
‘Thankfully there is plenty to show for the effort, not least the outcome of a record-breaking eight drug busts - 18 tonnes of drugs that will never reach our streets, and £200 million that will never reach the hands of terrorists and criminals.’
Describing the morale of the crew, he added jokingly: ‘I would say they are all buzzing but possibly not the right thing to say after seizing six tonnes of hashish.’
Family and friends packed into the jetty to cheer home their loved ones.
Stephen Hayton was waiting for his son, Able Seaman Aaron Hayton, 21, who was part of the boarding team involved some of the raids.
Mr Hayton, 65, of Durham, said: ‘I’m so, so proud of everything Aaron has done. This has been his first major deployment and he’s done a fantastic job.’
Engineering Technician Thomas Leah was also part of the boarding team and played a critical role in helping Dragon bag her final drugs haul – 2,540kg of hash from a fishing boat.
The 21-year-old Welshman crawled underneath the boat’s fuel tanks, fighting through slime and dirt and removing false hatches to bag the narcotics.
His mum Rhian Leah was one of the first to hug him and said: ‘It’s hard to say how much we have missed him. We’re all so proud of him.’
Lauren Elmer, 26, of Portsmouth, is the fiance of Leading Regulator Dave Anton, 35. She said she was glad to have Dave back.
‘It’s not been fun, it’s been very lonely,’ she said. ‘I’m just glad today is my last day of loneliness. I can’t wait to see him.’
Leading Chef Steve Thewlis, of Fareham, was greeted by his wife and four children as he stepped off Dragon.
He said: ‘It’s fantastic to be home. It’s been a very busy seven months. It was a very demanding deployment.’
The eight drugs raids started with the seizure of 3,000kg of hashish in the Arabian Sea in November, followed by 500kg of heroin, hashish and crystal meth in December.
Later in December, two more hashish seizures were made in the Arabian Sea, with 49kg of heroin seized in February.
In March, 2,000kg of hashish was seized in the Indian Ocean, while 224kg of heroin was seized in the Arabian Sea and 2,540kg of hashish in the final raid.
A spokeswoman from the navy said: ‘This achievement is the greatest drugs haul by a Royal Naval unit in recorded history.’
HMS Dragon will now undergo routine maintenance before being deployed later this year in support of aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.