AFTER a long nine months of waiting, families finally got to see their loved ones yesterday as HMS Defender returned to Portsmouth.
The Type 45 destroyer sailed back into the city to cheers from hundreds of onlookers looking to catch a glimpse at their husbands, wives, sons and daughters.
Defender had been on a 263-day deployment away from the city to carry out security operations in the Middle East. She mainly worked with American and French carrier strike groups as part of the on-going operations against the so-called Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.
Nancy Trevethan, 30, from Lee-on-the-Solent greeted her husband, Sean, 37, with their three children, including daughter Madeleine, who he last saw when she was just three weeks old.
Mrs Trevethan said: ‘It is amazing to see him and to have the family back together.
‘It just doesn’t feel real and it is just so wonderful.
‘The kids have missed him so much.’
Sean also greeted his sons, Hugo, four, and Ben, two, after walking off the ship.
Mr Trevethan, who acted as weapons engineer officer on Defender added: ‘You could not imagine the atmosphere on board as we all knew we were going to see our families. It just feels perfect to be home.’
Weapons engineer James Chapman, from Stockton-on-Tees, left Defender to celebrate his 30th birthday.
He said the deployment had been a ‘great journey’.
LET Chapman said: ‘It’s definitely been a long time coming and it’s great to see everybody.’
Defender visited 19 ports in 11 countries during her deployment including Sri Lanka, India and Abu Dhabi.
She travelled a total distance of 47,538 nautical miles, which is the equivalent of going more than twice around the world.
The ship participated in two major international maritime exercises and conducted numerous boarding operations.
One of these resulted in a major drugs bust where a tonne of hashish – worth an estimated £5.6m – was seized from a fishing boat off the coast of Oman.
Lt Commander Mike Proudman, from Farlington, said: ‘It’s been fantastic.
‘We had a great crew but it was hard work and I am very happy to be home with my family. Today is everything that the whole ship has been thinking about for the past nine months, so to finally get to this point, where we can see our families again, is a lovely moment.’
Angela Johns, from Swindon, Wiltshire, came down to see her daughter, weapons engineer Samantha Johns, 29, for the first time since last October.
She said: ‘I could barely contain my excitement. It’s so wonderful to be able to see her face-to-face for the first time in what feels like forever.
‘Words cannot say how proud I am of her.’
Defender also played an important role in furthering UK defence engagement, hosting five capability demonstrations supporting British industry and defence diplomacy, welcoming a total of 1,400 guests.
These included Prince Salman, the crown prince of Bahrain. The ship has used 10,551,000 litres of fuel, enough to fill 4.2 Olympic-size swimming pools.
Commanding Officer, Commander Stephen Highman said: ‘As captain, I could not be prouder of the men and women who have worked alongside me over the last 18 months and particularly over the course of this deployment.’
He added: ‘Every sailor, royal marine, airman and soldier who has served on Defender has been bold, confident and extraordinary, confident that what we have done here has made a difference and that we have directly contributed to the national security of the United Kingdom.’