The Portsmouth-based ship took a leading role in the UK’s efforts to stem the flow of narcotics from the Caribbean region with two huge drug hauls - recovering millions of pounds worth of cocaine and marijuana.
HMS Manchester and her crew were also on hand to provide humanitarian relief to the British Overseas Territories during one of the most active hurricane seasons in recent years, with sailors delivering immediate assistance to communities devastated by mudslides and lack of supplies.
Commander Rex Cox, Commanding Officer of HMS Manchester, said:
HMS Manchester has had a busy seven-month deployment and has been involved in a wide range of tasks, from intercepting drugs bound for the United Kingdom to helping the hurricane-battered people of St Lucia in their hour of need.
The ship’s company have performed magnificently and risen to every challenge in the finest traditions of the ‘Mighty Manch’ and the Royal Navy - I am immensely proud of them.
Almost as soon as the ship arrived in the Caribbean, HMS Manchester had her first success with the recovery of 300kg of marijuana. While airborne, the frigate’s helicopter spotted a power boat behaving suspiciously, and her crew alerted the local Royal Montserrat Police who sailed out to investigate.
The helicopter then retrieved several bales of marijuana that had been landed on the beach, later discovering the drugs had an estimated street value of £1.5m.
The major success of the deployment was the prevention of £16.8m worth (800kg) of cocaine reaching the streets. A converted Colombian fishing vessel smuggling cocaine across the Colombian Basin was taken in a surprise raid under the cover of darkness in October.
The fishing vessel tried to ditch its illicit cargo, but quick-thinking by HMS Manchester’s boats’ crews meant they were able to recover two bales as evidence with a further five sinking. The fishing vessel’s crew were then handed over to the Colombian authorities to be processed.
The hurricane season for HMS Manchester started with Hurricanes Earl and Igor, both of which passed close by Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and Bermuda without causing any significant damage. The ship’s helicopter was used to carry out an aerial survey in the immediate aftermath to provide the islands’ authorities with a detailed damage assessment.
However, the arrival of Hurricane Tomas meant immediate assistance was required as it hit St Lucia, with wind and rain tearing through the small towns, causing mudslides and destroying infrastructure such as access to roads and buildings.
HMS Manchester was called at short notice to help in the main town of Soufrière and the surrounding areas which were remote and cut off from any sources of aid.
The ship’s company were ashore for two days, during which time they searched for survivors, repaired and cleared mud from the hospital and other buildings, and provided fresh water, power and hot food; they even managed to erect some swings for the local children, generally helping the town to start to get back on its feet.
During the deployment, HMS Manchester visited all the British Overseas Territories and many of the other Caribbean islands in support of the Government’s wider diplomatic efforts in the region.
The highlight of these visits was the entry into Havana in Cuba - with HMS Manchester being the first British warship to visit for 53 years. The visit was used by the UK Government to strengthen the collaboration between the UK and Cuba and, in particular, the shared priorities of counter-narcotics and disaster response. While HMS Manchester was deployed, the ship’s company were keen to find ways to assist those less fortunate than themselves.
During several visits help was offered to the local communities, whether that was clearing a recreational area, painting a house or helping at a holiday scheme for disabled children. On top of this, charity events were held onboard while at sea to raise money for Broughton House in Manchester, a hospice for ex-servicemen. The sum of £2,090 has been raised overall which will be presented when the ship visits Manchester next year.