The Royal Navy Type 22 frigate returned from a seven-month deployment policing the Gulf of Aden, Horn of Africa and Somali Basin to disrupt piracy operations.
During its deployment the ship disarmed one pirate group in the Gulf of Aden, destroyed two skiffs after intercepting a group of suspected pirates near Tanzania, and, along with USS Cole, destroyed a group of three pirate craft in the Indian Ocean.
The ship’s captain, Commander Simon Huntington, was met on Friday by his family, including his 10-week-old son William - the first time he had seen him since he was born while the ship was away.
Commander Huntington said:
It is fantastic to be back home and even more so to hold young William for the first time. My wife and I agreed that I would stay with the ship when he was born because it was so busy out there. I have seen pictures of him and my wife tells me he looks like me when I was a baby.
My wife has been amazing, looking after the household and all our young children while pregnant with William.
So she deserves a rest and we will all go on holiday to the Cotswolds and to see family in North Wales and Cumbria where I grew up.
Commander Huntington’s wife, Angela, greeted him with their other children James, aged two, Eleanor, aged three, and four-year-old Elizabeth. Angela said:
It is brilliant to have Simon back and looking so well. He has worked very hard out there and we agreed that if possible he remain with the ship for William’s birth. But it was the hardest thing I have ever done - bring up three children under five while pregnant and while my husband is away.
HMS Chatham was the lead vessel for Operation OCEAN SHIELD, the NATO contribution to counter-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia.
The ship was also the UK flagship in Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 and hosted its commander, Commodore Steve Chick.
HMS Chatham was joined by the other ships in the NATO task group, including warships from Italy, Turkey, Greece and the USA. They patrolled the areas vital for maritime trade, covering strategic shipping routes from both the Far and Middle East, continuing through the Red Sea to the Suez Canal en route to Europe.
Also, the ship’s medical officer provided urgent medical treatment to a seriously ill crew member of a merchant vessel off Oman who was airlifted by the ship’s Lynx helicopter to a hospital.
A dhow was also liberated from Somali pirates who had seized it and were using it as a mother ship for piracy operations. And in another incident 23 seamen were winched from a merchant vessel, the MV Dubai Moon, by HMS Chatham’s helicopter after they found themselves in difficulty in a tropical cyclone off the Horn of Africa.
Waiting on the jetty for her sister, Shelley Conroy (a logistics specialist), along with six nephews and two nieces, was Claire Conroy.
Shelley was proposed to by her boyfriend, Andy Taylor, when they both had a rest ashore in the Seychelles while the ship on which they both serve was still on patrol. Claire said:
It sounds very romantic - he had the ring and everything. I am looking forward so much to spending time with her, we are very close. They said it was a tough deployment with some good times ashore.
Rebecca Smith was anxiously waiting for her fiance, Jonathan Wood (a weapons engineer), to come off the ship. Rebecca was joined by her sister Francesca and their parents, Susan and Peter Smith. Rebecca said:
This is the first time Jonathan has had family waiting for him when he comes off his ship because he is now engaged to me.
He comes from Cape Town in South Africa, so none of his family can come and see him come back. It has been very difficult being away from him, but it is fantastic he is back now.
Commander Huntington said:
I am extremely proud of what my ship’s company has achieved over the past seven months during what has been a demanding but very rewarding period of operations.
We can return to Devonport in the knowledge that we have made a significant contribution to the counter-piracy campaign in the region and helped protect the movement of free trade, much of which is bound for the UK.
This will be an emotional homecoming for all onboard HMS Chatham as we all look forward to spending time with our family and friends, and to enjoying some well-earned leave.
The ship’s company will now enjoy five weeks of leave before the ship goes through a maintenance period.