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Ocean flies the flag for UK in rare visit to Beirut

6 March 2017
Royal Marines drummers add some traditional British pomp and ceremony to the first visit to the Lebanese capital by a UK flagship in many years.

Helicopter carrier HMS Ocean had just 28 hours in Beirut - and squeezed every last second out of them to fly the flag for the mother country and foster closer ties with 'the Paris of the Middle East'.

It's been five years since any Royal Navy vessel has called in on Beirut, so the ship's company worked closely with the British Embassy to provide a programme which would highlight Britain at her best to visitors, and allow sailors and marines time to sample one of the world's oldest cities.

Ocean's captain, Capt Rob Pedre, was joined by Rear Admiral Alex Burton, Commander UK Maritime Forces, in hosting a broad spread of events: ship tours for approximately 200 people; practical leadership tasks for a group of school children; the obligatory rugby game with a local side, which the ship won by 43- 19.

Visitors were very impressed with the Merlin Mk2 helicopters from 820 Naval Air Squadron as well as the guard training and preparation for Ceremonial Sunset on the flight deck, led by the Royal Marines Corps of Drums from Scotland.

Throughout our short visit the Lebanese people were very friendly and made us feel really welcome. The ship's company all really enjoyed the experience and it's a great tick in the task book of life!

Commander Jim Ellis

That ceremony brought the curtain down on an official reception and capability demonstration on behalf of the UK's Ambassador to Lebanon Hugo Shorter, for 400 local officials and businessmen and a lunch for the Head of the Lebanese Armed Forces, General Jean Kahwaji.

The visit was supported by several British firms and the highlight for most of the ship's company was the arrival of the Aston Martin DB11 on the jetty.

Several hundred members of the ship's company were also able to go ashore on tours around some of the fantastic historic sites in Beirut as well as enjoying a traditional Lebanese meal and a trip to the Nicholas Sursock art museum.

"Having heard so much about Beirut, it was great to be able to get off the ship and see some of the city," said Commander Jim Ellis, Ocean's Commander Marine Engineering said:

"We travelled through the centre of the city where old-world architecture nestled in amongst new high-rise offices.

"Throughout our short visit the Lebanese people were very friendly and made us feel really welcome. The ship's company all really enjoyed the experience and it's a great tick in the task book of life!"

His thoughts - like the rest of his shipmates - are turning to home now. After six months away, the last three of them east of Suez in command of a US carrier task group, Ocean is due home in Devonport before the end of the month.

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