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West is best – and back – as HMS Westminster returns to Portsmouth
27 February 2014

Six and a half months away in the Indian Ocean and Gulf came to an end for HMS Westminster today in the late winter’s sunshine.

The frigate received a warm welcome – so warm there was even ice cream for waiting families – in her native Portsmouth.

Pictures: LA(Phots) Dan Rosenbaum, Maxine Davies and Nicky Wilson

THE girls are back in town.

And the boys. And even the sunshine.

Bringing a bit of Gulf sun back to Portsmouth (albeit briefly, because it was gone by lunchtime…) were the men and women of HMS Westminster, who returned home to the Solent today to a very warm, emotional welcome after six and half months away, mostly in the Indian Ocean, but latterly in the Gulf.

There was the usual assortment of home-made banners, Union Flags, painted faces and, unusually for February, people tucking into ice creams, in the base.

And there was the usual assortment of excited sailors and not a few tears as the frigate finally came alongside.

The bulk of the deployment was spent keeping pirates, terrorists and smugglers in check in the Indian Ocean, before Westminster relieved sister HMS Montrose in the Gulf when the latter was called away to help remove chemical weapons from Syria.

Since slipping away from the Pompey jetty last August, initially to work with the Cougar 13 task group in the Med, the Navy’s ‘capital ship’ has called on 11 ports in eight countries, steaming (well, gas turbining) 36,500 nautical miles – more than one and a half times around the globe – in the process.

She worked with various regional and coalition navies including those from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, India, Tanzania, France and the US, as well as Italy and Greece in the Mediterranean.

During her policing patrols Westminster’s teams boarded or visited 348 dhows and skiffs.

One concerned merchant vessel reported suspicious activity on her radio and within 17 minutes HMS Westminster’s Lynx helicopter was above the scene reassuring the vessel and preventing any incident.

And while Westminster herself didn’t snare any bad guys, she did play an indirect role in a drugs bust.

Before Christmas the ship spent three days in Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania where her Royal Marines and Royal Navy boarding teams conducted training with counterparts from the Tanzania Maritime Law Enforcement Detachment. Soon after completing the training, the detachment seized its first cargo of illicit drugs.

The rest of the ship’s company found time while in the East African port in Dar Es Salaam to work with the charity Kidz Care which builds schools for children orphaned by HIV.

As far as Westminster’s CO Capt Hugh Beard is concerned, the festive period begins now.

“This is like Christmas for all of us, although it’s a couple of months late. After a job well done, we’ve been looking forward to getting back home,” he said.

Belated December 25 celebrations aside, Capt Beard views the six and half months away as a success.

“We’ve made a really useful contribution to the region – a region which is key to the prosperity of the UK.

“Although we did not seize any illicit cargo or pirates during our operations, the significant drop in piracy in the region continues to prove that our tactics are working.

“We’ve achieved a tremendous amount during this deployment, promoting maritime security in the Middle East, but also training with regional nations to develop their own security capabilities.”