UK: HMS Monmouth Returns to Devonport


No, we’ve not gone all AC/DC on you. The Black is the Black Duke – HMS Monmouth – and she’s back home in Devonport after six months east of Suez.

That demanding tour of duty came to an end this morning when she made her way past Drake’s Island, past appreciative loved ones cheering at Devil’s Point, and finally alongside at Her Majesty’s Naval Base.

There were some 500 people waiting to welcome the Type 23 frigate in unseasonal October sunshine – temperatures were more akin to those the 185 souls aboard Monmouth enjoyed in their operational theatre.

Among those alongside, the family of 37-year-old sonar expert PO Stephen Slaney from Devonport. Five generations of his family ranging from his grandmother aged 88, to his children Calum, three, Shane, 12, and Immarni, eight.

“It was a good deployment with top achievements being counter-piracy successes,” the senior rate said.

“I’m ecstatic to be back. The highlight was having my dad sail back from Gibraltar with other fathers on board as a goodwill gesture.”

His wife Carmen said: “It’s fantastic to have him back. It has been a long trip. We’ve all missed him. He has arrived back in time to see Immarni’s ballet competition, having missed one, she is very excited. We hope this is his last time deployed at sea in his career.”

LS Joe Halliday from Liverpool, was hugged by his fiancée Lynsey who was holding their son Dylan, aged five months – and dressed in a baby’s sailor suit and hat.

“It ‘s fantastic to see Dylan and the family again. I was allowed to fly home to see his birth, but he has changed so much already. He looks very healthy,” said Joe, while his fiancée pointed out that “Now is the time for Joe to take over night shifts at home and enjoy bonding with his new son.”

Fellow leading hand Gavin Smith, 30, was met by his fiancée Hayley, 24, of Plymouth, and their children Chloe, six, and Riley, 18 months. Gavin said: “I’m really looking forward to spending time with my family. We did have some interesting port visits and it was my first time on a deployment when we have had direct engagement with pirates. It shows how important it is to have the Navy out on these deployments.”

Since Monmouth left Devonport in the spring, the ship has patrolled a vast area – the Red and Arabian Seas, Somali Basin, Indian Ocean and Gulf – working with numerous other nations to tackle terrorism, smuggling, drug running and piracy. She also found time to take part in large-scale multi-national exercises.

In doing so she’s clocked up more than 30,000 miles on patrol (using up more than three million litres of fuel in the process – enough to fill the tanks of around 55,000 Ford Focuses). Her Lynx helicopter, callsign Black Knight, was launched on 140 sorties – that’s 208½ hours airborne or more than eight and half days.

And in the galley the chefs chopped, boiled, roasted and mashed 16,250kg potatoes (which is about the weight of ten Ford Focuses), grilled 1,134kg steak, fried 2,015kg sausages, baked 2,280 loaves of bread, all washed down with 59,400 cups of tea.

But the most important statistic of all: 17 hostages freed. Following an intelligence tip-off, the Black Duke closed in on a suspected pirate mothership in the Gulf of Aden.

Those suspicions proved well-founded.

The boat ignored every warning Monmouth issued. It did not ignore a boarding party of commandos and sailors, who promptly freed 17 men held hostage – and detained several suspected pirates.

Most encounters with shipping in these waters, thankfully, is rather less dramatic.

Much of Monmouth’s time was spent establishing the ‘pattern of life’ on the waters of the Red Sea​ and Indian Ocean – understanding what is fishing vessel and what might be a pirate mother ship (because the two look pretty similar).

In between, there were breaks in the island idyll of the Seychelles, where the ship’s company took part in National Day celebrations and offered some engineering assistance to the local coastguard, and a longer period of rest and recuperation in the UAE metropolis of Dubai.

Throughout this demanding deployment – in addition to the vast swathes of ocean to cover, the ship’s company have had to contend with the vicissitudes of weather in the region from the monsoon season to scorching summer temperatures – the men and women aboard the frigate have shone, according to their Commanding Officer, Cdr Dean Bassett.

“My ship’s company have given their best and ensured that Monmouth was always well prepared to deal with the many challenges encountered whilst deployed,” he said.

I’m immensely proud of their commitment and professionalism; they are a credit to the Black Duke and the Royal Navy.

The biggest challenge was coping with the separation from families and loved ones who are left behind. It was fantastic to see hundreds of people lining the jetty waving and cheering as we came alongside.

“I would like to extend my personal thanks and that of my ship’s company to all the people who have given their support to us both before and during our deployment. Without the knowledge of and practical support given at home then providing operational effectiveness would be that much harder.”

Monmouth’s mission east of Suez has been taken over by her sister Somerset. Upon arriving in the Mediterranean in mid-September, the Black Duke was on stand-by to support operations off Libya, but was not required and so continued on her journey home.

Source: royalnavy, October 04, 2011