'Warmest welcome yet' for Portsmouth patrol ship Spey in Fiji

Topic: Operational activityInternational partnership Storyline: HMS Spey

‘Warmest welcome yet’ for Portsmouth patrol ship HMS Spey in Fiji

Royal Navy warship HMS Spey upheld a tradition dating back to World War 1 on the latest stage of her island-hopping mission around the Pacific.

Fresh from supporting the fight against the Coronavirus in Pitcairn Island and updating historic charts of remote Pacific waters, the ship has spent a week in Fiji for a mix of military, civilian and ceremonial link-ups.

The crew say the welcome Fijians showed them has been the warmest Spey has yet received since leaving Portsmouth last September for her five-year patrol of the Indo-Pacific with sister HMS Tamar.

A military band lined the jetty in the capital Suva and the Fijian Navy greeted the ship with a ceremonial guard, in addition to the Fijian Police, Port Authorities, and members of the British High Commission.

That set the tone for every event attended or hosted, including a tour of the Fijian Navy Hydrographic Centre and a medal ceremony for members of the Fijian Military who trained at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.

“It’s really impressive that the Fijians managed over 250 days at sea conducting survey tasks last year; considering the small size of their Navy, they really do make the most of their personnel and equipment,” said Lieutenant Mike Royle, Spey’s Navigator.

And in Nakelo, just east of the capital, the sailors presented a fresh Union Flag, promptly raised during a traditional ceremony, celebrating the island’s ties with the Royal Navy – and the village’s in particular.

Back in 1915, cruiser HMS Encounter dropped anchor off Fiji as she searched the Pacific for German shipping in the opening months of the Great War.

The people of Nakelo provided assistance to the crew – and they thanked locals with a Union Flag, so it’s become tradition for Royal Navy ships to replace the banner whenever they visit Fiji.

“It was great to see that this connection has been maintained; we were honoured to present a new Union Flag that is flown at the village and to take part in traditional Fijian ceremonies to learn about the wider culture,” said Lieutenant Commander Bridget Macnae, HMS Spey’s Executive Officer.

Engineering Technician Josh Stannett, aged 20, added: “It was brilliant! The whole of Nakelo village including all the chiefs welcomed us. There were about 200 people there, lots in traditional clothes.

“I was responsible for raising the flag and after we got to take part in the traditional Fijian ceremonies. Everyone was so friendly, I got given a great big floral wreath to wear and there were a lot of photos with us and the villagers, the whole thing was class.”

Spey’s sailors were also invited to speak at the Women Entrepreneurs Business Council, while the ship’s trauma management team led a discussion on mental health at Albert Park Hall.

Lieutenant Nicola Gibbons, Sub Lieutenant Kate Winter and Lieutenant Alice Haggett outlined the role of women serving in the Royal Navy since first going to sea in 1990 to the present day and all the roles on ships and submarines they perform up to senior female officers.

And Petty Officer Paul Lewis was impressed by the first open forum held on Fiji on the importance of mental health and trauma.

“Feedback was very positive,” he said. “The nurses at the local hospital are now using the log book templates and advice we gave them to create their own management systems.”

Staff from the National Disaster Management Office and the Ministry of Fisheries were hosted on board the ship for a visit to learn about the ship’s ability to combat illegal fishing and to provide humanitarian relief.

Other community engagement events took place and a series of sporting matches with the Fijian Navy saw games of rugby, netball and volleyball played.

Finally the ship hosted an official reception with the British High Commission.

We took part in traditional Fijian ceremonies. Everyone was so friendly - the whole thing was class!

Engineering Technician Josh Stannett