SAILORS on HMS St Albans will be reunited with their families on Friday when the ship returns to Portsmouth after a nine-month deployment policing the seas and fighting terrorists.
The Type 23 frigate has sailed more than 38,000 miles on Operation Kipion working with carrier task groups, hosting key defence and diplomatic engagements and conducting operations to counter narcotics and weapon smuggling.
I am immensely proud of my ship’s company and our achievements.Commander Richard Hutchings
Days into her deployment, ‘the Saint’ 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 St Albans and her 220 ship’s company joined two separate French and United States aircraft carrier strike groups supporting the air strikes against the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
St Albans’ Commanding Officer, Commander Richard Hutchings said: ‘I am immensely proud of my ship’s company and our achievements.
‘Together we have been tested on operations and proved ourselves repeatedly in a demanding area of the world where Britain’s reputation is strong.
‘Our families and friends have given us superb support. It’s now our chance to be re-united and show our gratitude.’
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.
Away from security operations St Albans has conducted key defence engagements from Kuwait to Algeria, promoting the United Kingdom and British foreign policy abroad.
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.”
St Albans is expected to arrive in Portsmouth just after 10am.