Portsmouth destroyer begins nine-month mission in the Gulf

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ROYAL Navy warship HMS Diamond has left Portsmouth to begin her nine-month deployment in the Gulf helping in the fight against terrorists in Syria and securing the seas in the Middle East.

The 260-strong ship’s company of the £1bn Type 45 destroyer have been preparing for months for the mission.

Once they arrive in the Middle East, Diamond will form part of an American carrier strike group in the region.

Using her state-of-the-art radar and missile system, the 7,350-tonne warship will protect the taskforce as they continue operations in Syria against extremists from the so-called Islamic State.

Diamond’s captain, Commander Ben Keith said his team are ready for any eventuality and are itching to finally put their training to the test.

The 41-year-old dad-of-two from Gosport said: ‘A large part of what we will be doing is what the navy has done for the past 500 years – that’s keeping the sea lines of communication open.

HMS Diamond

HMS Diamond

‘There are three strategic straits that are out there. One of them, the Bab-el-Mandeb with the Yemini civil war and the terrorism in the Arabian peninsula, is particularly tense at the moment.

‘So we are there to reassure our allies and keeping trade going. This could be by taking on drugs busts or by providing a visible deterrence.’

He added the ship would be working closely with the Americans during their deployment.

‘We are going to be operating with them for about half the time,’ said Cdr Keith. ‘We provide with a key capability in terms of air defence.

‘We will provide them with a protective umbrella, we will operate with their aircraft, we will ensure their safety as they’re flying.

‘So whatever the American tasking is – which is still ongoing with targets in Iraq and Syria – then we will fully support that from a protection of a carrier point of view.’

HMS Diamond is one of six destroyers based in Portsmouth.

She will one day protect the navy’s new aircraft carriers, the first of which – HMS Queen Elizabeth – is currently alongside in Portsmouth.

For AB Liam Fletcher, the nine-month mission is going to be one of his toughest.

The 26-year-old chef is part of the team who will be fuelling the bellies of the ship’s 260 crew.

They will supply the ship’s company with three meals a day, seven days a week.

‘We generally get called the heart of the ship as we feed the morale – quite literally,’ he said.

Speaking about the deployment, he added: ‘This is my first full nine-month deployment. I went out a couple of years ago for three months. That was just a taster.

‘It’s nerve-wracking. It’s exciting. It’s the concept of not knowing what to expect.’

Lieutenant Josh Hind is the deputy marine engineer officer on board. He is part of the team that will help keep the ship working in the relentless heat of the Middle East.

He said the Diamond is ‘absolutely prepared’ for the deployment, following an exhaustive period of maintenance on her key systems, including the propulsion.

Previously, problems with the Type 45’s engines have plagued the fleet.

But the 26-year-old officer said Diamond’s engines are ship-shape and ready to go.

‘The ship is in a good place today,’ he said. ‘It’s been a hard two weeks of dotting the Is and crossing the Ts after a lot intrusive maintenance prior to leave.

‘We’ve had two weeks of trials at sea and we’re in a good place now.

‘Nine months sounds a long time but we’ve known it’s been coming. I’m really excited about it, I’m looking forward to it. It’s the first time I’ve been to the Gulf as well. So it’ll be lots of new experiences. I’m sure it’ll be a lot of hard work. But it’s good to be doing what we’re meant to be doing.’

A film crew will be documenting the nine-month mission.