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Royal Navy warship HMS Liverpool returned home to Portsmouth today following more than seven months working as part of NATO operations off the coast of Libya.
The Portsmouth-based Type 42 destroyer was welcomed home by over a thousand friends and family members as she sailed into Portsmouth this morning, 7 November 2011.
Secretary of State for Defence Philip Hammond was on board to congratulate the ship’s company on their latest deployment.
HMS Liverpool sailed to the Mediterranean at the end of March to support NATO’s Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR, where her tasks included enforcing the no-fly zone and conducting embargo operations to prevent arms from reaching pro-Gaddafi forces by sea.
Since taking on her high-tempo mission to protect Libyan citizens, HMS Liverpool’s ship’s company has spent 81 hours at action stations on 28 separate occasions, been fired at and returned fire ten times, and launched 211 rounds of illumination and high explosive shells from her 4.5-inch (114mm) gun. These illumination or star shells were fired to light up pro-Gaddafi positions for NATO aircraft to identify and destroy.
The ship’s company has witnessed the siege of Misurata and the fall of Tripoli, Zlitan, Al Khums and Sirte to the rebels, and while enforcing the no-fly zone, HMS Liverpool’s fighter controllers spent 360 hours controlling 14 different types of aircraft from a number of NATO countries.
During her deployment, HMS Liverpool worked alongside many other Royal Navy assets, including minehunters HMS Brocklesby and HMS Bangor. On the occasions that the minehunters had to close the coast to search for and destroy any mines that had been laid, HMS Liverpool stood by as protection to allow the ships to successfully complete their missions.
Assault ship HMS Ocean and her embarked Apache helicopters were also on national tasking in the area, with HMS Liverpool able to provide assistance as an air defence platform and to give an intelligence picture from her position.
All the UK assets were supported by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel Fort Rosalie, which provided vital stores when needed - HMS Liverpool herself conducted 40 Replenishment at Sea operations with Fort Rosalie to embark vital supplies and fuel.
Commanding Officer of HMS Liverpool, Commander Colin Williams, said:
I am immensely proud of my ship’s company and the way in which they have risen to their challenge and reacted to the very real threat posed by pro-Gaddafi forces.
For the past seven months HMS Liverpool has been at the sharp end of Royal Navy operations, spending 360 hours controlling aircraft, firing hundreds of rounds and spending long periods at action stations.
We became the first ship to be fired upon in 30 years, and my ship’s company responded by putting their training into action, returning fire in self-defence and destroying enemy positions ashore.
In their efforts to protect the Libyan people and enforce the will of the United Nations, the ship’s company have proved their grit and determination. I know that our families and well-wishers will be as proud of them as I am and we arrive home as a ship at the top of her game.
Mr Hammond - paying his first visit to a Navy ship since he took office - said the ship’s company could be proud of playing a vital role in helping the Libyan people to rid themselves of a tyrant and end a dictatorship that has lasted for 40 years. He added:
We are grateful to you and proud of you. You have demonstrated the power of the Royal Navy. On behalf of the whole nation: thank you for what you have done.
Liverpool was originally due to sail with the Cougar task group to the Mediterranean and Middle East on exercises.
Instead, she left Portsmouth earlier than planned at the end of March - and arrived home three months later than originally scheduled.
Those changes to the deployment meant that Lieutenant Rubin Nash had to cancel his wedding twice, his expertise as Liverpool’s gunnery officer was deemed indispensable, so he’ll now be tying the knot in the spring, world events allowing; but on the plus-side four of the ship’s company were able to get home in time for the birth of new additions to their families.
Leading Seaman Nicola Stirzaker, who has now completed her fifth deployment, said:
It’s been a long year but a good year. I’ve never done something as big as this. When we heard that Gaddafi had gone you knew that you’d made a big difference.
HMS Liverpool is due to decommission in the spring after 30 years’ service; a final visit to her namesake city and trials and exercises are in store before the White Ensign is lowered for good.
Commander Williams praised families for their support throughout - there were times when e-mail and phone communications were down for operational reasons and the ship’s ever-changing programme meant she missed the post for two months.
Above all, he said his men and women were filled with ‘a sense of pride and satisfaction at a job well done’, adding:
You can see sailors grinning from ear to ear. We are very proud of what we have done. Keeping people motivated has not been difficult - they could see the difference we were making.