News story

Royal Navy minehunters return from the Gulf

HMS Middleton and HMS Pembroke have both experienced emotional homecomings today after each spending three challenging years on deployment.

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Portsmouth gave a heartwarming welcome home to HMS Middleton who has returned from maritime security operations in the Gulf.

The minehunter was part of a mine countermeasures capability operating out of Bahrain which saw her conducting maritime security operations to reassure regional nations of the UK’s commitment to security.

HMS Middleton displayed that commitment through the co-ordination and conduct of exercises and focused operations with other coalition forces and Gulf Cooperation Council nations.

Since January 2012 the current ship’s company has often endured temperatures in excess of 50 degrees Celsius and winds of 50mph (80km/h). The testing environmental conditions of the Gulf make it an ideal location to maintain warm water capabilities and develop the expertise necessary to deliver the full range of activities that make up an expeditionary mine countermeasures force.

During the tour the ship took part in several multinational exercises. Most recently, the crew provided force protection to the MV New Delhi Express which had suffered engine failure. Middleton assisted and ensured the safe passage of the MV through the Gulf of Aden and potentially averted a pirate attack.

While returning to the UK, Middleton visited Valletta in Malta for the 70th anniversary commemoration of Op Pedestal - the seminal point of the Malta Convoys’ mission of the Second World War - in which mine warfare vessels played a vital role.

The event was marked by a visit to the ship by First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, the Prime Minister of Malta and several surviving heroes of the campaign.

Middleton’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Steve Higham, said:

My team have had the honour of serving in Middleton for over eight months during which we have conducted missions across the military spectrum. We have trained hard with other navies and proven the Royal Navy’s capability of minehunting and disposal in the most challenging of conditions.

As her 40 crew members have changed every six to eight months, the challenges have been broad and varied:

Throughout, HMS Middleton’s ship’s company have conducted themselves with fortitude and determination,” praised Lt Cdr Higham.

Acting as ambassadors for the United Kingdom, they have been a credit to their country and the Royal Navy. The separation has been hard, the distances great, but the encouragement and support of families has been key to our success and I know everyone is looking forward to a few weeks of thoroughly well-deserved leave.

In Faslane, Scotland, another group of welcomers turned out in force for the homecoming of HMS Pembroke from operations in the Middle East.

Crowds gathered at HM Naval Base Clyde to see the Sandown Class minehunter as she returned from her deployment in the Gulf, ensuring safe passage for merchant and civilian vessels.

For the past three years the mine countermeasures vessel has been operating in warm Gulf waters, working alongside multinational forces during operations and exercises in the region.

And for HMS Pembroke the work didn’t stop after leaving her base in Bahrain five weeks ago. During her 7,000-mile (11,300km) transit home the vessel was called in to help guard a merchant ship from the threat of piracy in the Gulf of Aden.

HMS Middleton wasn’t the only Royal Navy minehunter to go to the aid of the MV New Delhi Express. Speaking of the incident, Lieutenant Commander Chris Allan, Commanding Officer of HMS Pembroke, said:

It was just a single incident in a packed deployment, but a memorable one.

The MV New Delhi Express was without power and her cargo meant she was an attractive target for pirates in the region. Both HMS Pembroke and HMS Middleton responded immediately and were happy to offer our protection.

He continued:

I think what it shows is the flexibility of the minehunting community and why the Royal Navy is as valuable today as it ever was. Over 90 per cent of the world’s trade is carried by sea and the UK transports nearly all of its oil and gas and half of its food by ship. Mine countermeasures vessels contribute to keeping the sea lanes, both at home and abroad, clear and safe.

HMS Pembroke left her home port of HM Naval Base Clyde in October 2009 and since then has had seven different crews. The Royal Navy operate a crew rotation system on their minehunters, with each deployed for six to seven months at a time.

During her time in the Gulf, HMS Pembroke has been at the forefront of the Royal Navy’s mine countermeasures capability in terms of experience, expertise and technology:

It is an absolute privilege to sail back into the Clyde with Pembroke and crew three,” said Lt Cdr Allan. “The deployment has been immensely rewarding both professionally in terms of our contribution to the ongoing mine countermeasures effort and for the challenge of the long passage home for a small ship.

The ship and the team are incredibly hardworking and it is their effort which has made this deployment such a success.

Published 31 August 2012