Royal Navy’s HMS Defender returned to HM Naval Base Portsmouth this morning after a hugely successful 222 days away from home. Her crew of 270 and embarked helicopter from 815 Naval Air Squadron safely accompanied 38 British-flagged tankers and cargo ships through troubled waters and made two significant drug seizures. There would normally be hundreds of family and friends on the return jetty waiting for the sailors to disembark, but to help preserve good health the homecoming was cancelled. HMS Defender spent 184 days in the Gulf and her 270-strong ship’s company had just a fortnight’s break during their 222 days away, eating 18 tonnes of meat, 26 tonnes of potatoes and 30,000 eggs.
However, for the final leg of the destroyer’s journey home, 39 relatives were able to join as planned in Gibraltar, to experience of life aboard with loved ones. Fleet Commander, Vice-Admiral Jerry Kyd, embarked at Spithead early on Friday to meet the crew and thank for them for their service since departing on 12 August before they made the final transit into harbour from their overnight anchor in the Solent. 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 Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz.
HMS Defender also supported international security missions: Operation Sentinel, the global response to the threat to shipping in the Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, and Combined Task Force 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, 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 is the fifth of the Type 45 or Daring-class air-defence destroyers built for the Royal Navy. Defender’s construction began at the BAE Systems Naval Ships (now part of BAE Systems Surface Ships) yard at Govan on the River Clyde in July 2006. She is the eighth ship to bear the name. Construction of Defender began in 2006, and she was launched in 2009. The ship completed her first sea trials in October–November 2011, and was commissioned during March 2013.The Daring-class air-defence destroyers are 152.4 m (500 ft) in length, with a beam of 21.2 m (70 ft), a draught of 7.4 m. (24.3 ft) and a displacement of approximately 8,500 tonnes. The Daring-class destroyers are equipped with a 48-cell A50 Sylver Vertical Launching System allowing for a mix of up to 48 Aster 15 and 30 missiles.