Receiving some TLC – and a brand new paint scheme – after a hectic 2023 is HMS Mersey.
The Portsmouth-based patrol ship is ending the year in maintenance in Falmouth – a welcome break for the 20-year-old vessel after being almost constantly in action this year.
Before entering dry dock, Mersey had been available for duties on four out of every five days in 2023, conducting missions as varied as monitoring Russian warships passing the UK to supporting NATO and Joint Expeditionary Force allies in the Baltic, exercising with the RAF, and leading the UK’s government efforts to stop illegal people trafficking in the Solent.
In doing all this (and much more), Mersey visited 16 ports in eight countries spending 3,331 hours under her own steam (that’s 138 days/more than 19 weeks/over four months), sailing 31,590 nautical miles in the process…
She collected a commendation from the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society for ‘meritorious actions in rescuing others’ for humanitarian work.
The ship spent more than 120 days patrolling the Channel, responding to more than 650 incidents alongside the RNLI and Border Force, helping recover people – and also abandoned craft – mostly at night, and mostly in poor conditions.
“The tasking was constant and due to the size of the crew involved everybody to be called on day or night,” said Lieutenant Alex Collins.
“Due to the improvised nature of the craft used by the migrants, density of shipping in the Dover Strait and often unfavourable weather conditions, recovery serials were inherently dangerous.
“Despite the challenges faced many on board found the tasking to be rewarding as, unlike some of our other duties, the human impact of the operation was immediately evident.”
On a couple of occasions Mersey was asked to step in her for her sister HMS Severn delivering specialist navigational training to officers looking to safely guide capital ships through challenging waters).
And in frequent sub-zero temperatures and snowstorms, the ship operated alongside military forces from Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, and train with locally-based RAF assets (notably a Typhoon interceptor) during a whistle-stop month-long mission to the Baltic.
The ship also found time to visit her namesake river twice – once to celebrate her ties with the Borough of Sefton, the second to provide security/support Eurovision.
“Being in Liverpool felt like coming home,” said Chief Petty Officer Lee ‘Bungy’ Williams, assistant marine engineer officer. “It was a pleasure to spend a few days with the wonderful people of the city amidst the backdrop of the Eurovision song contest.”
The ship missed the year’s other big party – the Coronation – as she was monitoring the progress of Russian ships past the UK, one of several times she’s been activated this year… including in the final weeks before entering maintenance in Falmouth.
The River-class ship’s engines will be overhauled, accommodation upgraded, systems renewed and the Western Approaches WW2 camouflage/dazzle paint scheme added to the hull (the last of the original Rivers to receive it) before Mersey resumes patrols.
Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander James Mitchell is delighted by everything his ship and his men and women have accomplished in 2023 – once again underlining the versatility of the class.
“Behind all of this is the small ship’s company of men and women who have delivered everything ¬– and then some – of what has been asked of them,” he said.
“We’re looking forward to our next venture in Falmouth and some deep maintenance to breathe a new lease of life into the ship to allow her to get back to the front line within the next few months.”