Royal Navy mine hunter HMS Penzance returned to her Scottish base of operations today after spending three years helping to protect vital waterways in the Gulf.
Sailing the ship as it made its way up the Gare Loch were Crew 1 from Faslane’s First Mine Counter Measures Squadron (MCM1) who have served with the vessel for the past eight months.
A Royal Navy Sandown class Mine Counter Measures Vessel (MCMV), during her three-years deployed to the Middle East HMS Penzance has spent over 7,500 hours at sea and sailed more than 34,000 miles.
At any one time the Royal Navy has four mine hunters working in the Gulf – two Scottish-based Sandown class ships from HM Naval Base Clyde and two Hunt class vessels which are usually based in Portsmouth.
While there, the vessels conducted routine surveys, sea-bed clearance and mine clearance operations. The ships provide a visible naval presence in the region where stability and good relations with local nations is vital. Much of the UK’s gas, as well as other products, come from the Gulf region and the Royal Navy’s efforts are of vital importance to the UK economy.
Commanding Officer of HMS Penzance, Lieutenant Commander Jim Lovell, said:
The ship has performed everything asked of her during the deployment and I could not be more proud of my Ship’s Company.
A professional and versatile team, they have delivered everything I have asked of them but now it’s time for some very well earned leave.
HMS Penzance left Faslane in June 2014 for service in the Gulf with Crew 1 joining the ship in January 2017- an especially long deployment for the crew of a mine hunter.
While the ships stay on deployment in the region for years at a time, the crews are rotated every six-months or so, flying out to join the vessels.
During their return home, family members and friends gathered at the Faslane dockside to provide an emotional welcome. A lone piper played from the deck of the mine hunter as she berthed alongside while a touch of musical pageantry was provided by the Royal Armoured Corps Band.
It was a particularly special occasion for one member of HMS Penzance’s ship’s company - Petty Officer (Mine Warfare) Mark Titman from Sheffield. As the ship berthed, banners on the deck proclaimed his love for his partner, 32-year-old Laura Campbell from Glasgow, who awaited his return.
First down the gangway, Mark got on one knee to propose to Laura who immediately accepted.
Petty Officer (Mine Warfare), Mark Titman, said:
My daughter, Ava, was born just prior to the deployment and was just four-weeks –old when I left.
I am proud to be able to do my job and even more proud the way that my partner Laura has coped in bringing up our daughter. It leaves me in no doubt whatsoever that she is the perfect women for me!
In January this year, HMS Penzance was one of five Royal Navy vessels who joined forces with the United States, Australia, France and Italy for exercises in the Gulf, testing their expertise in locating underwater explosives.
Working alongside HMS Bangor, HMS Chiddingfold, HMS Daring and command ship RFA Lyme Bay, Penzance helped clear an exercise minefield, making use of unmanned underwater vehicles, divers, helicopters and other specialist equipment in challenging conditions.
More recently the ship and her crew were involved in the disposal of live ordnance off the coast of Cyprus.
At HM Naval Base Clyde to welcome HMS Penzance was Commander Nick Unwin – Commanding Officer of the First Mine Counter Measures Squadron – and the captain who sailed the ship to the Gulf back in 2014.
Commander Unwin, said:
It’s a great moment for me to see Penzance return today after over three-years away from home. I was the Commanding Officer to deploy her to the Middle East region in June 2014 and as the MCM1 Squadron Commander today, it gives me a sense of closure to that whole period.
As a former Commanding Officer, you still have a soft spot for a ship and it’s wonderful to see Penzance back in such good shape. That said, it’s business as usual for the Squadron; HMS Blyth has picked up the baton for the next three-years in the Gulf and HMS Pembroke deployed to a NATO group just last Wednesday.
These small ships are the enduring, forward-deployed British mine countermeasures presence East of Suez and are ready to ensure security of the critical sea lanes we rely upon for our imports and experts and our nation’s economy.
Maritime trade is the lifeblood of the UK economy and industry with 95 per cent of Britain’s economic activity depending on the oceans. Each year the UK imports goods worth £524 billion and without the Royal Navy acting as a deterrent the effect on the economy would be overwhelming.
Commodore Jim Perks, Commodore of the Faslane Flotilla, said:
The crew’s eight month deployment is a significant achievement, not just for the 40 men and women at sea, but also for their families and friends who have supported them so well and missed them so much.
It is not often a crew has the opportunity to bring their ship home as these vessels are worked hard and spend over three years forward-deployed to the Middle East and the Gulf as part of the UK’s presence East of Suez. It is a special moment to see Penzance return and a proud moment for Crew 1.
Their operational tasks have taken them from the Gulf to the Arabian Sea and to the Eastern Mediterranean and they have performed exceptionally well throughout. It’s a job really well done, and now it is time to be with their families.