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Minehunters embark on 7,500-mile journey as three-year Gulf odyssey begins
10 June 2014

Minehunters HMS Penzance and HMS Chiddingfold have left their home ports of Faslane and Portsmouth to head for Bahrain to replace their sisters.

They’ll take the place of Shoreham and Quorn respectively as they knuckle down to a three-year deployment in the Gulf in the latest turnaround of RN mine warfare forces in the Middle East.

Pictures: LA(Phots) JJ Massey and Gaz Weatherston

TWO Royal Navy minehunters are Gulf bound as they make the 7,500-mile journey to relieve their sisters.

HMS Penzance sailed from Faslane last week and HMS Chiddingfold from Portsmouth yesterday as they take over from Her Majesty’s Ships Shoreham and Quorn which have spent more than three years in the punishing heat of the Middle East.

The Royal Navy maintains a four-strong minehunting force in Bahrain (plus an RFA mother ship): two Sandown-class vessels (experts in finding mines in deeper waters) and two Hunt-class (designed for minehunting in shallower waters).

Penzance's dive team show off their kit to Princess Michael of Kent

Each ship spends three to three and a half months in theatre with their crews trading places with colleagues back in the UK every six to seven months.

On the eve of her departure from the Clyde, Penzance hosted her sponsor, Princess Michael of Kent, who launched the ship in Southampton back in 1997 and has followed her progress ever since.

The 41-strong crew laid on various demonstrations of what they – and a Sandown-class warship – are capable of, including the launch and recovery of the Seafox system, the Navy’s principal weapon in the fight against mines.

Princess Michael of Kent chats with Penzance's CO Lt Cdr Nick Unwin on the Sandown's bridge

“The visit means a lot to the crew as we prepare to deploy to the Gulf,” said Lt Cdr Nick Unwin, Penzance’s CO.

“As Lady Sponsor of the ship, Princess Michael of Kent has shown a keen interest in the ship’s activities over the years and the visit allowed her to see first-hand our new equipment.”

As for the Cheery Chid, it’s her first deployment since being fitted with new diesel engines – more reliable and more efficient than the old Deltics, which were 1950s technology – during a major refit in Portsmouth in 2012.

It’ll take more than a month for the ships, which are sailing in tandem once they meet up in the Atlantic, to reach their destination – just in time for high summer when temperatures reach well into the 40s Celsius – and never get cooler than about 30˚C.

Aboard the ships, temperatures in the engine room compartments are around 55˚C, limiting work there to about 20 minutes at a time. And because the waters of the Gulf are so warm, (also about 30˚C), tap water on the ships is about the same and it’s impossible to drink it without ice.