Royal Navy survey ship HMS Echo has returned to her home port of Plymouth after a marathon 19-month deployment.
During the deployment, the ship made 24 stops in 11 nations and 13 different ports including Valletta, Salalah, Limassol, Gibraltar, Bahrain, Mina Rashid, Dubai, Jebel Ali, Mombasa, Mumbai, the Seychelles, Haifa and Tripoli.
The ship has been away for 593 days with 421 actually at sea and has sailed about 74,000 miles (120,000km) - equivalent to 2.5 times around the equator.
The ship’s survey work of little-charted waters has enabled other ships and task forces to operate safely and confidently. This has included working with Plymouth-based HMS Albion on the largest Royal Naval exercise last year and other units on regular maritime policing patrols in the Middle East.
HMS Echo surveyed over 3,150 square miles (8,160 square kilometres) - equivalent to the surface area of Cyprus; and conducted 181 sea bed samples, the deepest of which was 974m, and 986 surveys using sound.
Over 45,000 rounds of ammunition was expended, two of which were fired in anger on a real ‘quick-draw’ incident against a suspected Somali pirate vessel. Firing two saluting cannon rounds proved sufficient to deter further night approaches by suspect criminals.
In addition, the ship flew the flag on visits providing an opportunity for the crew to rest, with Haifa being a popular destination. Many of the crew attended a tour of Jerusalem’s Old City, a highlight of the deployment for many.
Able Seaman Matthew Baker-Irons said:
It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Lieutenant Richard Watsham said his highlight was visiting Mombasa where he enjoyed a safari and sailing. Leading Steward Andy Drinkwater remembered the Seychelles:
It was wet and fishy… it chucked it down and we were moored next to a tuna boat.
Petty Officer ‘Scouse’ Morris said his visit to Mumbai was particularly poignant:
A lot of poverty and a large culture shock. Lots of beggars. Tuk Tuks [motorised three-wheeled rickshaws] were great fun and the curries were nice.
Leading Writer Lucy Gilston said:
I have been on board for the whole of the deployment and I can say the most memorable port visit and the one that will stick in my mind forever will be Mumbai, India.
I have never witnessed such an intense social diversity all mixed together in one area. I was really enlightened from every experience I encountered.
Many of the ship’s company attended a short tour of central Tripoli, organised by British Embassy staff. Commander Matt Syrett, Commanding Officer of HMS Echo, said:
Martyrs’ Square was a pleasant place for a cup of coffee and it was fascinating to see the balcony from which Gaddafi used to address the masses.
Tripoli had the same hustle and bustle of any other North African city and it was a really positive sign that the country is looking forwards not backwards.
Able Seaman Emily Gordon appreciated the irony of skiing in Dubai at Christmas:
Having to bundle yourself up in ski clothing after spending the rest of the day in shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops.
Whilst on deployment standard emergency drills included 78 fire and flood exercises, 81 man-overboard exercises and 200 sets of breakdown drills. In total 600 litres of paint were used to maintain the ship, exceeding the 400 litres of ice cream eaten.
The ship’s crew played football against eight different nations and lost 10, drew one and won two; the biggest win being 5-2 against the Jebel Ali team and the biggest loss 9-1 against a Maltese side. Other nations played included China, Libya, Oman, India, the United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Malta and the RAF in Cyprus.
The crew is rotated while on deployment, so all have leave periods ashore in between shifts on board, and 29 members of the ship’s company who left Plymouth were on board when the ship returned to her home port today. Three of the crew have got married, and seven babies have been born since the ship has been away.