Royal Navy minehunters due home after three years on Gulf mission

Two Royal Navy minehunters are returning home to the UK after completing three years of operations in the Gulf.

HMS Blyth and HMS Ledbury are almost at the end of their 6,000-mile journey home after more than 1,000 days away from Britain’s shores.

The trusty pair parted ways as they approached the UK, with Sandown-class Blyth on her final stretch into her home at Faslane and Hunt-class Ledbury sailing for Portsmouth.

The duo have been forward deployed to the Gulf since 2017 with their mine hunting crews rotating every few months.

It is Second Mine Counter Measure Squadron (MCM2) Crew 2 who are guiding Ledbury home, having put the seal on a demanding stretch of operations, which saw the ship spend 116 days at sea, with their anti-mine marine drone Seafox carrying out 57 missions and 88 dives carried out by the ship's clearance diving teams.

The crew, who arrived on board in January, also took part in the multi-national exercise Khunjar Hadd, Arabic for ‘Sharp Dagger’.

Ledbury was joined by RFA Cardigan Bay, HMS Shoreham and HMS Brocklesby for the ordnance disposal exercise with US, French and Omani navies.

Lieutenant Commander Matt Ellicott, commanding officer of Ledbury, said: “It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sail the oldest sea-going ship in the Royal Navy from Bahrain to the UK after three years deployed conducting vital operations in the Middle East.

“A proud crew have completed a highly successful eight-month deployment in the Middle East against a backdrop of high regional tensions. Add to this the challenge of maintain operations during a global pandemic.

“This is a hugely commendable effort and testament to our people.”

This deployment has been uniquely challenging and has tested my team like never before.

Commanding officer Lt Cdr Pete Ellison

Meanwhile, First Mine Counter Measures Squadron (MCM1) Crew 2 (who have also been deployed since January) have covered 3,300 nautical miles, spending 111 days at sea on Blyth.

Commanding officer Lt Cdr Pete Ellison, said: “I am immensely proud to bring HMS Blyth and MCM1 Crew 2 back home to Faslane after an extremely successful three years of operations for Blyth and seven-and-a-half months of operations for my crew.

“This deployment has been uniquely challenging and has tested my team like never before.

“Crew 2 have performed magnificently through a difficult period and we now look forward to a well-deserved period of rest and relaxation with our families. My thanks must firstly go to my crew for their professionalism and commitment, but also to our families at home; they have faced an extended and very challenging period with their loved ones away at sea and I am extremely grateful for their support.”

The Faslane-based crew visited 11 different ports, multiple times, for logistical support, re-supply and engagement with local communities during their deployment.

Blyth worked with fellow Royal Navy ships and the US Navy on minehunting exercises and in Kuwait hosted the Commander of the Kuwaiti Naval Force on board.

In March, both ships had to adapt quickly when restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic were brought in.

For the sailors it meant staying within the base when alongside at the UK Naval Support Facility in Bahrain or on board the ship when visiting other ports.

During this time, Ledbury received 117 bags of mail, giving the crew a timely boost of morale.

Despite the coronavirus crisis, both ships continued with operations throughout.

Ledbury joined other nations for Combined Task Forces 152 and 150, maritime security operations in the Gulf and the wider region, and worked with the US Navy.

Blyth also managed to find time in their busy schedule to raise more than £2,300 for charity. Their ‘Lift the Ship’ event saw the 41 crew lift the equivalent weight of their ship (570 tons) and then the weight of Ledbury (740 tons).

In July, the ships started their 6,000-mile transit home, accompanied by HMS Montrose through the Strait of Hormuz and Bab el Mandeb Straits.

High seas and 60 knot winds made for a difficult pass near Oman and Yemen before the ships sailed through the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean.

While in the region, they supported NATO’s Operation Sea Guardian, providing maritime security, before making their last port stop in Gibraltar.

The ships sailed from the Rock earlier this week on their final leg to the UK.