THERE were tears and cheers as the crew of a Royal Navy minehunter returned home to Portsmouth after a three-month mission with Nato.
HMS Cattistock has been operating in the Baltic as part of an international mine clearance mission.
It was a major change of scenery for the 750-tonne plastic-hulled ship that is more used to the blistering heat of the Gulf than the freezing Nordic fjords.
During her latest mission the Portsmouth-based warship helped rid the waters around Norway’s capital, Oslo, of deadly mines from the war.
In the space of 10 days, the vessel’s team of expert divers risked life and limb in bone-chilling conditions to clear 13 mines from the sea – almost half of the total removed by the whole Nato fleet.
Cattistock’s captain at the time, Lieutenant Commander Charlie Wheen – who left the ship two weeks ago – was at the jetty to welcome his former team home.
He said: ‘The group in total found 27 mines and Cattistock found 13 so we accounted for well over a third – nearly half – and easily the single highest in the whole group.
‘This was all done in really challenging conditions: a minus 20 degree windchill with really thick sea ice.
‘It was a really punishing environment to work in.’
He added: ‘I’m enormously proud of the ship’s company. Taking a Hunt-class back to Nato after three years and achieving what we did demonstrates we are leaders in Europe and in the world in [mine-counter measures].’
About 100 well-wishers lined the jetty to welcome the 47-strong team of 8 Crew home.
Chef Patrick Bidgood, 28, was hugged by his mum and dad, Stephen and Angela, and his two children Grace, five, and Clark, three. The Gosport sailor said: ‘It’s been awesome. It’s been hard being away from them all for so long.’
Claire Head was waiting for her husband ET (ME) Chris Head, with their son Ethan, four. ‘It’s been quite difficult,’ said the 32-year-old of Eastney. ‘The little man has been really excited to have him back. It’s someone to play Ghostbusters with.’
Cattistock’s new captain, Lieutenant Commander Chris Hollingworth took charge sailed the ship home
He was welcomed by his wife, Eleanor, and children William, three, and Rose, 10 months. He said: ‘This is my first time in command. It’s an honour and a privilege to lead such a great team.’
Cattistock is one of eight minehunters based in Portsmouth.
She is set to deploy again later this year to the Gulf.