More than 600 joyous family members and friends greeted their loved ones on the jetty at HM Naval Base Devonport in Plymouth on Friday when HMS Somerset returned from a six-month counter-piracy mission.
Throughout her deployment the Type 23 frigate’s ship’s company have remained ready to respond to any tasking but have predominantly been working under Combined Maritime Forces as part of a task force which patrols the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman.
It is a multinational endeavour and exists to create a lawful and stable maritime environment free from terrorism, smuggling and piracy. Her principal mission was to deter, disrupt and defeat such actions.
On her homecoming on Friday, HMS Somerset’s Commanding Officer, Commander Paul Bristowe, said:
It is fantastic to be met by hundreds of families and friends on the jetty. The crew deserve this moment from their families who have been so hugely supportive which is appreciated so much by us all.
My ship’s company have been really professional, enabling the ship to conduct effective maritime policing operations including counter-piracy and counter-smuggling.
“One of the incidents came about when we came across a ship in which the crew had been effectively taken captive by pirates. We secured the vessel from the pirates and released the captured Pakistani crew.
As well as disrupting two piracy acts we also rescued two separate crews in distress on the high seas. This was very rewarding and exactly why we were there and what we have trained for.
At the head of the queue of waiting family members, to meet her husband Chief Petty Officer Rob Lawes as he disembarked in privileged third place, was Leanne Lawes with their first child - 15-week-old son Daniel dressed in a sailor suit specially made by his mother for the happy occasion. Chief Petty Officer Lawes said:
It’s wonderful to see Daniel again. Leanne has done so well looking after him. Mind you I was lucky enough that the Navy flew me home to be there at his birth. Others have had to wait until today to see their families. It is a great day for everyone.
Julie Gale was overjoyed to see her daughter Leading Medical Assistant Donna Gale again following her first deployment on operations.
Her incident-packed time on Somerset included looking after a patient in Tanzania and giving medical cover to a football match in Saudi Arabia. Julie said:
Donna’s had a really busy time on her first ship. It’s brilliant to see her again.
HMS Somerset remained at sea for up to six weeks continuously at any one time and visited Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania and the Seychelles.
Whilst in various ports the crew engaged with their host nations in a variety of ways ranging from comparing maritime security tactics to playing football; all of which served to strengthen international co-operation based on the shared need to protect maritime trade routes.
Petty Officer Jamie Newman hugged his children Evie, seven, and Owyn, ten, who were delighted to see their father again. Evie said her dad was taking her to Brownies - the first time he had been able to. Owyn is looking forward to football football with his father. Their mother Lisa said:
Although it has been hard keeping these two [children] occupied, Jamie is back and that more than makes up for everything.
Petty Officer Newman said:
The deployment has been successful, especially with counter-piracy ops. It is tough being away from my family, but this is a wonderful welcome home.
Powerful and versatile with the capability to operate anywhere in the world, the Type 23 frigate is the mainstay of the Royal Navy’s surface fleet. The 13 Type 23 frigates form half of the frigate/destroyer force in the Royal Navy.
Originally designed for the principal task of anti-submarine warfare, they have evolved into multi-purpose ships. As well as warfare roles, these ships conduct embargo operations using boarding teams, disaster relief work and surveillance operations.
The ship’s crew is now on leave before returning to prepare the ship for a lengthy in-depth refit - her having deployed four times for six-months in the past five years. HMS Somerset will be regenerated and made ready for any operations next year.