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Liverpool is the closest that the 5,200-tonne ship can get to her affiliated city of Manchester, but plenty of Mancunians took the final opportunity to make the short journey over to Liverpool to visit the ship.
The Type 42 destroyer arrived on Merseyside last week and was met by two charity cyclists from the crew, who had raced the 260 miles (418km) from Portsmouth to Liverpool in two days to raise money for Broughton House Home for Ex-Service Personnel.
On board, as HMS Manchester docked at Liverpool’s cruise liner terminal, was the Lord Mayor of Manchester, Councillor Mark Hackett. He said he spoke for the whole city when he said that Manchester was very proud of its association with the ship.
As HMS Manchester was moored in Liverpool, and opened to visits from the public, her crew travelled the short distance to Manchester to exercise their Freedom of the City.
The day’s ceremonial proceedings began with a service at Manchester Cathedral, before members of the crew formed up outside the cathedral to march through the city centre to the Town Hall where they returned the Freedom Scrolls to the Lord Mayor.
Accompanied by the Territorial Army Bands of The Lancashire Artillery and The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, many members of the public braved the wet weather to cheer the ship’s company on their route and say goodbye to the ship.
A reception was held for the ship’s company at the Town Hall afterwards.
The ship’s Commanding Officer, Commander Rex Cox, spoke of the ‘great pride’ among the crew in bringing HMS Manchester back to the Mersey for this final visit, but added that events were tinged with sadness as the 30-year-old ship heads for decommissioning:
The ship has served the Royal Navy for 30 years and has a fine pedigree, including action in the Gulf. And, although she is decommissioning, this is a time to celebrate her sterling service over the decades,” he said.
HMS Manchester’s life in the Royal Navy will come to an end on 17 February when she is decommissioned in Portsmouth. She was always scheduled to decommission in 2011, and is not going as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review.
The ship has recently returned from a seven-month counter-narcotics deployment in the Caribbean, conducting operations in support of British Overseas Territories.
HMS Manchester was close by and able to offer support in the aftermath of Hurricanes Earl and Igor that passed close to the British Virgin Islands and Bermuda respectively, whilst also providing direct support to St Lucia following the passage of Hurricane Tomas.
The ship was closely involved with counter-narcotics operations in the area, working closely with US agencies, and also had a US Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment team onboard.
A notable success of these operations was the interception of a 240kg consignment of cocaine from a fishing boat off the Colombian coast.
A further highlight of the deployment was her entry into Havana, Cuba - the first British warship to visit the island 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.
This deployment has been captured on film by Channel 5 in a documentary series called ‘Royal Navy: Caribbean Patrol’, with the first episode having been broadcast on 7 February 2011.