The UK Royal Navy Type 45 destroyer HMS Defender (D36) returned to HM Naval Base Portsmouth on March 20 morning after completing a seven-month deployment.
During the hugely successful deployment, her crew of 270 and embarked Wildcat helicopter from 815 Naval Air Squadron (815 NAS) safely accompanied 38 British-flagged tankers and cargo ships through troubled waters and made two significant drug seizures, one in December last year an one earlier this year.
Usually, there would be hundreds of family and friends on the return jetty waiting for the sailors to disembark, but due to the current Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, the homecoming was cancelled.
HMS Defender’s Commanding Officer, Commander Richard Hewitt, said: “While disappointing not to see our families on the jetty as we return to Portsmouth, we understand the situation and we are extremely grateful for all the support our families have provided while we have been deployed. We could not do it without them and are looking forward to spending some quality time with them now we have returned.”
Instead of a six-month patrol of the Far East as originally planned, the destroyer was diverted to the Middle East last summer to join other Royal Navy vessels accompanying British merchant shipping into and out of the Persian Gulf (Arabian Gulf) through the Strait of Hormuz.
She sailed the narrow waters at the gateway to the Gulf 28 times, accompanying 1.6m tonnes of cargo on those 38 ships – cargo vital to UK trade and economy.
“This was an ever-changing, dynamic, operational deployment for Defender,” added Commander Hewitt. “The successes we’ve achieved are testament to our training and the mental resilience of the crew which allowed us to reinforce the Royal Navy’s commitment to maintain a global maritime presence, 365 days a year.”
HMS Defender also supported international security missions during the deployment: Operation Sentinel, the global response to the threat to shipping in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, and Combined Task Force 150 (CTF-150) which attempts to curb terrorist and smuggling activities in the Indian Ocean.
Her crew scored the biggest crystal meth seizure on record in the region, 131kg, followed in January by 2.5 tonnes of cannabis. The Royal Marines boarding team from Plymouth-based 42 Commando and 209 Flight’s Wildcat helicopter, normally based at RNAS Yeovilton, were instrumental in both busts.
In quieter times, the destroyer worked with the Indian Navy, initially in the English Channel for annual Anglo-Indian Exercise Konkan at the start of her deployment, then later with a visit to their base in Goa.
HMS Defender spent a total of 184 days in the Gulf and her 270-strong ship’s company had just a fortnight’s break during their 222 days away.