Nato fleet in Portsmouth pays tributes to victims of the Brussels attacks

A FLOTILLA of Nato warships which sailed into Portsmouth paid tribute to the victims of the Brussels terror attacks.

Thursday, 24th March 2016, 6:01 am
Minehunters from five different nations arrived in Portsmouth yesterday Picture: Malcolm Wells (160323-8381)

A fleet of four minehunters – including the BNS Primula from Belgium – plus a German support ship flew their flags at half-mast during their entry into Portsmouth Naval Base yesterday.

They will remain at half-mast for three days as a sign of respect to the more than 30 people killed in the atrocities committed by jihadists from the so-called Islamic State in the Belgium capital.

Commander David Hilton, who is co-ordinating the visit, said: ‘The squadron commander, who is based on the FGS Donau, instructed the vessels to fly their flags at half-mast for three days, starting with their entry into Portsmouth, as a mark of respect to the victims of the terror attacks in Brussels.’

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The multinational squadron – midway through a deployment across northern Europe – will spend six days in the city to refuel and give the crews some respite ashore.

First to arrive was the German replenishment vessel FGS Donau, followed by HMS Ramsey (UK), HNOMS Otra (Norway), BNS Primula (Belgium), and FGS Dillingen (Germany).

The Netherlands minehunter HNLMS Vlaardingen will join the fleet tomorrow.

Tony Efford, 76, travelled from his home in Somerset to see the ships arrive.

The former sailor – who was in the navy for 12 years and was based in city – was touched by the tributes.

‘It was quite surprising. I have never seen navy ships pay a tribute like this before,’ he said.

Howard Newman, 67, of Farnborough, was on the Round Tower taking pictures of the fleet as it arrived into the harbour.

He said: ‘This was something I have never seen before. It’s not often you get a Nato squadron coming into the city.’

The fleet – and its 250 sailors – has been operating together since February as one of Nato’s two permanent mine countermeasures groups.

It has been patrolling the waters of northern Europe carrying out a mixture of mine-hunting exercises and dealing with unexploded ordnance from last century’s conflicts.

The group is nearing the half-way point in its six-month deployment and has already visited Copenhagen, Lubeck and Amsterdam.

Cdr Hilton added: ‘We often get individual ships from foreign navies visit Portsmouth, but it is not so common to get a group of vessels like this.

‘Portsmouth is a popular destination for foreign ships as they like the city’s rich maritime history and it is only a short distance to London.’

The vessels are due to leave Portsmouth on Tuesday, with the first sailing at 9am.

More than 30 people are believed to have been killed and dozens more injured in Tuesday’s terror attacks.