Our final entry into Devonport will understandably be tinged with sadness, as we reflect on a truly remarkable operational period for HMS Ocean and the many significant achievements we have accomplished together on this great warship.

Captain Robert Pedre

In her 20 years of service, HMS Ocean has been involved in operations off Sierra Leone (2000), off Iraq (2003), off Libya (2011) and, most recently, humanitarian operations in the Caribbean.

The return to Plymouth was especially meaningful for six of the crew who were at the beginning of the ship’s career 20 years ago.

The most senior senior-rating on board, Executive Warrant Officer Carl Steedman, of Sussex, served on board HMS Ocean for three years at the beginning of his career including before the ship actually entered service in 1998 and then joined again 15 years later.

He said: “It’s fantastic to be serving on board and see the ship coming home for the last time more than 20 years after I joined her while she was in-build and to take her into service – I saw her hull from red undercoat to battleship grey.

"The highlight of my career was the lead-up to Op Ruman Caribbean hurricane relief – when the ship turned round from the NATO deployment to be re-tasked to humanitarian relief and we stored at Gibraltar.

"The whole ship pulled together in an amazing way, whether it was carrying planks of wood on board or operating heavy vehicles to prepare for emergency relief – all in 36 high-octane hours.

"I have always felt privileged to be part of HMS Ocean and I must admit I’m a bit sad now she won’t be in action again for the Royal Navy and the UK.’’

The ship has conducted the evacuation of British nationals and other entitled personnel from numerous areas of conflict around the world and delivered humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to thousands in need, to name, but a few of her operational highlights.

Commander Nick Wood, second-in-command of HMS Ocean, said: “This is a bitter-sweet moment, but we should not let emotion cloud our view of the future, this is an illustration of great progress with the Royal Navy.

"HMS Ocean might be known as the ‘Mighty O’, but new ships such as the Prince Of Wales are much larger and can carry out a similar role on a larger scale

"She is a unique and awesome ship.  We have looked after her for twenty years and she has looked after the country.  Plymouth has given us a warm welcome as ever, the people of Plymouth will miss her large presence on the horizon. I am a bit sad, but this is the right way to celebrate her career."

Engineering Technician Jessica King, 28, of Plymouth, said HMS Ocean was her first ship. “This is a fantastic homecoming.  My family are very proud of me and it’s great to see them and others on Plymouth Hoe welcoming us in for the last time.

"It’s disappointing it is the end of the ship’s career. I’ve made lots of new bonds on board - it’s like having another family, but in the Navy.

"It’s sad for us all to go our separate ways. But I’m hoping to go to another ship."

Last year HMS Ocean completed the last three months of a seven-month operational deployment to the Middle East as Flagship of the normally US-led Combined Task Force 50, and deployed as a NATO flagship in the summer.

On arriving in the Eastern Mediterranean, she rapidly responded in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, steaming 4,500 nautical miles across the Atlantic to deliver urgent humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to four Caribbean territories over a fortnight of operations.

She completed the year as the flagship to Commander Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 on operations in the Mediterranean.  She was also honoured to represent the United Kingdom at the Portuguese 700th Fleet Review in Lisbon before finally returning home before Christmas.

HMS Ocean has made a significant contribution to UK Defence over the years, both operationally and in the realm of Defence Engagement through tasks such as hosting the Prime Minister during the Gulf Cooperation Council meetings in Bahrain in 2016 or conducting high profile visits to Beirut, Turkey and Israel in 2017, supporting the UK’s national interests.

It is fitting that one of HMS Ocean’s final operations mirrored that of her first; the role of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.  In early 1999 HMS Ocean was deployed at short notice to render assistance to Honduras and Nicaragua in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch; some 18 years later she did the same across four separate island chains in the Caribbean as part of the largest UK overseas military operation at that time.

HMS Ocean was launched in 1995 and has a crew of 400 personnel, including 9 Assault Squadron Royal Marines, who operate the four Mk5 Landing Craft Vehicle and Personnel, providing the projection of fighting capability ashore.

Having served admirably with the Royal Navy since 1998, the long-planned decision to take HMS Ocean out of service in 2018, when she reaches the end of her planned service life, was made as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) 2015. No final decisions on a disposal have been made, but the revenue she generates will be reinvested in defence.

The new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers will eventually take on the role as the nation’s new flagships.

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