The longest deployment by a Royal Navy vessel in recent times came to a rapturous conclusion today as HMS Enterprise returned to Plymouth after three years away.
Crew saved the lives of more than 9,000 people in the Med, sank over 100 boats used by people traffickers, scanned shipwrecks of two wars and visited 20 countries since the survey ship left Plymouth in June 2014.
Pictures: LPhot Caroline Davies, FRPU West
THE longest deployment by a Royal Navy vessel in recent times came to a rapturous conclusion today as HMS Enterprise returned to Plymouth after three years away.
No ship in the modern history of the RN has saved more lives – 9,180 alone during counter-people-smuggling operations in the Mediterranean – than the survey ship, which also helped people flee unrest in Libya, sank 117 craft used by traffickers, scanned shipwrecks and called in at 20 countries since leaving home back in 2014.
A crowd of family and friends lined the jetty cheering and waving banners ahead of emotional reunions – although the ship’s company haven’t been away as long as the ship herself.
One third of Enterprise’s crew change places every few weeks allowing them to catch up on leave or training courses, and allowing the ship to continue on operations – hence being away for just shy of three years.
CPOET(WE) John Williams joined the ship part way through the deployment. He was ovewhelmed by the welcome from his wife Claire, and children Gabby, 15, and 19-year-old Kane, a junior RN engineer, and Kane’s girlfriend, Jess Lowe.
“It’s really good to see my family again and spend more time with them. This is the third time I’ve served on the ship and she’s a great vessel to serve in. It’s been a long time away from her homeport for Enterprise – the trophies and accolades we have been awarded are testimony to that. It’s good to see her back home.”
Kane added: “I don’t see dad much when he is home, let alone when he’s away, or I’m busy at work with the Navy. So it’s extra special to see him come back home after a busy deployment.”
Enterprise’s coxswain PO Stefanie Merlo was greeted by her brother Daniel and his Union Flag-waving sons Thomas, ten, and James, four, Daniel’s partner Amie Whorton, and Stefanie’s mother Brenda – all the way from Preston.
“It’s lovely to have such a warm welcome, especially from James and Thomas. I Joined the ship in the South Atlantic, so it’s been a long trip back and pretty rough in the Atlantic. It’s been quite an epic achievement by ship and crew,” said PO Merlo.
The youngest person on the jetty was five-week-old Isaac, son of the ship’s navigating officer Lt Nicholas Radue who scooped him out of the arms of his wife Alex as soon as they stepped onto the ship.
“It’s wonderful to see little Isaac again. Even though the Navy kindly allowed me home to see him when he was born before I had to rejoin the ship for the journey back – I have missed half of his short life and he is a different boy already!” he said.
Summer and Amelia Payne (aged three) wave at dad, LH Dixon Payne
Alex said: “I’m used to seeing Nicholas off and welcoming him home again. But from now on it will all be different with our first child. It makes homecomings extra special for a start.”
Enterprise’s CO Cdr Philip Harper said all those who’d served aboard the ship over the past three demanding years could be “justly proud of the work they have done since deploying – the wide variety of operations will be hard to match in the rest of our careers.
“The results of our deployment speak for themselves.”
After two months of maintenance in her home port – and two months’ rest for the crew – Enterprise is due back on patrol in July.