March 20, 2020 – HMS Defender returned to HM Naval Base Portsmouth this morning after a hugely successful 222 days away from home. Due to crew shortages, no replacement was deployed.
Her crew of 270 and embarked helicopter from 815 Naval Air Squadron safely accompanied 38 British-flagged tankers and cargo ships through troubled waters and made two significant drug seizures.
There would normally be hundreds of family and friends on the return jetty waiting for the sailors to disembark, but to help preserve good health the homecoming was cancelled.
However, for the final leg of the destroyer’s journey home, 39 relatives were able to join as planned in Gibraltar, to experience of life aboard with loved ones. Fleet Commander, Vice-Admiral Jerry Kyd, embarked at Spithead early on Friday to meet the crew and thank for them for their service since departing on 12 August before they made the final transit into harbour from their overnight anchor in the Solent.
HMS Defender’s Commanding Officer, Commander Richard Hewitt, said: “While disappointing not to see our families on the jetty as we return to Portsmouth, we understand the situation and we are extremely grateful for all the support our families have provided while we have been deployed. We could not do it without them and are looking forward to spending some quality time with them now we have returned.”
Instead of a six-month patrol of the Far East as originally planned, the destroyer was diverted to the Middle East last summer to join other Royal Navy vessels accompanying British merchant shipping into and out of the Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz.
She sailed the narrow waters at the gateway to the Gulf 28 times, accompanying 1.6m tonnes of cargo on those 38 ships – cargo vital to UK trade and economy.
“This was an ever-changing, dynamic, operational deployment for Defender,” added Commander Hewitt.
“The successes we’ve achieved are testament to our training and the mental resilience of the crew which allowed us to reinforce the Royal Navy’s commitment to maintain a global maritime presence, 365 days a year.”
HMS Defender also supported international security missions: Operation Sentinel, the global response to the threat to shipping in the Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, and Combined Task Force 150 which attempts to curb terrorist and smuggling activities in the Indian Ocean.
Her crew scored the biggest crystal meth seizure on record in the region, 131kg, followed in January by 2.5 tonnes of cannabis.
The Royal Marines boarding team from Plymouth-based 42 Commando and 209 Flight’s Wildcat, normally based at RNAS Yeovilton, were instrumental in both busts.
In quieter times, the destroyer worked with the Indian Navy, initially in the English Channel for annual Anglo-Indian exercise Konkan at the start of her deployment, then later with a visit to their base in Goa.HMS Defender spent 184 days in the Gulf and her 270-strong ship’s company had just a fortnight’s break during their 222 days away, eating 18 tonnes of meat, 26 tonnes of potatoes and 30,000 eggs.
“At the end of the day we’ve been doing what we were sent here to do – and the atmosphere onboard rose based on our successes,” said Leading Seaman Rico Macaspac, an operations room supervisor.
Leading Engineering Technician Danny Holmes added: “Doing something like a drug bust was a tangible result which gave the whole ship’s company a real – and measurable – sense of achievement.
“It really highlights the important work that we’ve been doing.”
To sustain morale youngsters Daisy and Poppy Hamlyn – daughters of a former crewmate – set up Daisypop Parcels, collecting gifts and raising money to send presents to the ship’s company, especially over the Christmas period, which was appreciated by all on board.