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HMS Mersey returns home after 13 months’ work tackling people trafficking and drug smuggling

HMS Mersey homecoming
10 February 2017
Royal Navy patrol ship HMS Mersey is back home in Portsmouth today after spending 13 months supporting efforts to tackle people trafficking and drug smuggling.

Families and friends of those on board lined the jetty side this morning, accompanied by the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Portsmouth, to welcome their loved ones home.

The River-class patrol ship left Portsmouth in January 2016, heading for the Caribbean before travelling east to the Mediterranean and later on to the Aegean.

“I’m really happy to see my family again and to have been able to show them around my first ship,” said Able Seaman Bradley Alderton, 21, from Littlehampton.

“Being deployed to the Med has been my first time abroad with the Royal Navy and I can’t wait to tell my family about all my experiences.”

The ship provided security and reassurance to the UK’s overseas territories, helped seize £12m of cocaine off the coast of Nicaragua and spent six months working under the command of NATO helping counter the migration crisis.

Mersey worked closely with the UK Border Force, EU coastguard agencies and other NATO forces to assist with the monitoring of people trafficking and migration. Her main mission was to observe and report people making dangerous crossings so they could be escorted to safety.

HMS Mersey has delivered an epic 13-month deployment spanning from the Caribbean to Turkey driven by the spirit, commitment and courage of the ship’s company

Lieutenant Commander George Storton, HMS Mersey’s Commanding Officer

“HMS Mersey has delivered an epic 13-month deployment spanning from the Caribbean to Turkey driven by the spirit, commitment and courage of the ship’s company,” said Lieutenant Commander George Storton, HMS Mersey’s Commanding Officer.

“With a crew of less than 50 on board at any one time, everybody is involved in every task from hosting presidents to working with NATO allies and developing lifesaving procedures in the Mediterranean. The team has done an amazing job and this deployment really highlights the capability and flexibility of the offshore patrol vessel.”

During her deployment, Mersey has sailed 48,000 miles and visited 32 ports in 19 countries across three continents.

Her role in the North Atlantic was to provide security and reassurance to the UK’s overseas territories in the Caribbean and Mersey’s size meant she was able to visit many of the smaller islands and ports that wouldn’t normally be accessible to larger Royal Navy ships.

As a result, the ship welcomed thousands of visitors on board – from presidents and ambassadors to hundreds of excited schoolchildren.

In April, while on counter narcotics patrols with the US Coast Guard, HMS Mersey helped seize £12m of cocaine off the coast of Nicaragua. The ship had been called in to help the Canadian Navy minehunter HMCS Summerside, which had stopped a vessel bound for Honduras.

Working in challenging sea conditions, Mersey sent in her fast boat to assist. The Royal Navy crew took charge of the three suspects and took them back to the ship before returning to collect 16 bales of cocaine.

The second half of Mersey’s deployment saw her head to the Aegean Sea, via a stopover in Gibraltar, to support the NATO-led operation to combat the migration crisis.

Working as part of Standing NATO Maritime Group 2, the support was an extension of the UK’s contribution and commitment to tackle illegal people trafficking and migration in the region.

Over the past 12 months NATO report their operation in the Aegean, which involved 50 ships from 15 nations, resulted in an 80 per cent reduction in the number of migrants trying to reach Greece and Turkey.

Rear Admiral Alex Burton, the Royal Navy’s Rear Admiral of Surface Ships, joined the ship at sea early this morning to commend the crew on a job well done and offer his thanks for their hard work and dedication on a demanding deployment.

While the ship has been away for 13 months, the crew have not. The crew of an Offshore Patrol Vessel work a routine of two months on and one month off.

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