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Royal Navy rescuers and polar photographer to be honoured by The King

Leading Photographer Belinda Alker
27 October 2023
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Two sailors who saved the crew of a stricken yacht in a Channel storm lead six Royal Navy personnel recognised for their service on the front line.

Chief Petty Officer Stephen Froom and Able Seaman Alfie Hulme from destroyer HMS Diamond battled terrible conditions – which saw one of the yachtsmen tossed into the Channel when their vessel broke down and began sinking in November last year – to not just save all aboard, but to get the engines running again.

Each man earns the King’s Commendation for Bravery, announced in the latest Operational Honours issued by the Ministry of Defence and approved by His Majesty.

Leading Photographer Belinda Alker has been awarded the Kings Commendations for Valuable Service for her work to support scientific research in both polar regions with icebreaker HMS Protector.

Also receiving a KCVS is Commander Oliver Ayers for his ground-breaking work in frigate HMS Montrose in the midst of the pandemic to develop ways of operating with sailors who were Covid-positive, but not showing the symptoms. It meant Montrose spent more time on patrol – during which the frigate intercepted not just illegal shipments of drugs, but also the first seizure by the RN of illegally-trafficked advanced conventional weapons.

Diamond’s rescue – already the subject of a lifesaving award for the ship collectively – saw 54-year-old Chief Petty Officer Froom from Bristol lead efforts to restore power and prevent the yacht Zapopan sink off the Isle of Wight.

I feel proud and humbled to be recognised for something I perceive as just doing my job.

Chief Petty Officer Giles Newbon

Stephen was the first on and last off the yacht, helped rescue three of the five crew, before toiling with shipmates Lieutenant Commander Tom Leonard and Chief Petty Officer Giles Newbon to remove water and restart the boat’s engines, as the Zapopan pitched and rolled violently.

“I was initially embarrassed as I don’t like the limelight,” he said. “I feel proud and humbled to be recognised for something I perceive as just doing my job.

“I felt confident due to the training and experience I have. I viewed it as the job at hand, which I’d be tasked with and needed to be completed.”

Seaman Specialist Alfie Hulme, who’s now serving in the Gulf with a minehunter, was coxswain of Diamond’s seaboat in the same rescue, using his experience operating the craft in very challenging conditions – darkness, heavy seas and strong winds.

Despite very little ambient light, he successfully manoeuvred the Pacific 24 boat alongside the yacht to get the rescue team safely aboard.

He then manoeuvred boat safely alongside the yacht when it became necessary to evacuate three of the petrified crew and, when one fell in the sea, was in position for the yachtsman to be quickly recovered.

In all, Alfie made three trips between HMS Diamond and the yacht either to ferry the latter’s crew to safety or deliver specialists and equipment, remaining on hand until the last safe moment to return to his ship, all the while providing reassurance to his shipmates.

Leading Photographer Alker brought to life for audiences at home the brutal cold and hostile climes faced by the sailors as icebreaker HMS Protector carried out valuable scientific work at the extreme ends of the world.

She captured everyday life and notable moments, and supported surveys of the Ant-/Arctic wildlife population – always in challenging, sometimes potentially dangerous conditions.

Originally a hydrographic specialist, Belinda switched to becoming a full-time photographer with the Navy in 2018 and is currently serving aboard the UK’s flagship, HMS Queen Elizabeth.

“It’s an honour to have been selected and I’m very proud to be recognised,” she said.

“It was a privilege to be able to contribute to the work carried out by the Royal Navy in supporting heritage and scientific organisations, as well as showcasing the role of the ship and her sailors on global operations.”

Also decorated in the honours list – as Officers of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) – are Royal Marines Colonel Ed Hall and Captain John Punch.

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