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Families of the crew of HMS Manchester have welcomed them home for Christmas in Portsmouth earlier today (Dec 9th).
The warship's been in the Caribbean for 7 months, where she caught a ship smuggling £168Million worth of cocaine and also helped recover a big haul of cannabis.
The Portsmouth-based ship took a leading role in the UK's efforts to stem the flow of narcotics from the Caribbean region with the two huge drug hauls. This was combined with providing humanitarian relief to the British Overseas Territories during a hurricane season that was one of the most active in recent years, with sailors providing immediate assistance to people devastated by mudslides and lack of supplies.
Commander Rex Cox, Commanding Officer of HMS Manchester, said:
“HMS Manchester has had a busy seven-month deployment and has been involved in a wide range of tasks from intercepting drugs bound for the United Kingdom, to helping the hurricane battered people of St Lucia in their hour of need. The ship's company have performed magnificently and risen to every challenge in the finest traditions of the ‘Mighty Manch’ and the Royal Navy - I am immensely proud of them.”
Almost as soon as the ship arrived in the Caribbean she had her first success with the recovery of 300kg of marijuana. While airborne, Manchester's helicopter spotted a power boat behaving suspiciously and her crew alerted the local Royal Montserrat Police who sailed out to investigate.
The helicopter then retrieved several bales of marijuana that had been landed on the beach, later discovering the drugs had an estimated street value of £1.5 million.
The major success of the deployment was the prevention of £168 million worth (800 kg) of cocaine reaching the streets. A converted Colombian fishing vessel smuggling cocaine across the Colombian Basin was taken in a surprise raid under the cover of darkness during October.
The fishing vessel tried to ditch the illicit cargo, however, quick thinking by HMS Manchester's boats' crew meant they were able to recover two bales as evidence with a further five sinking. The fishing vessel's crew were then handed over to the Colombian authorities to be processed.
The hurricane season for HMS Manchester started with Hurricanes Earl and Igor, both of which passed close by Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and Bermuda without causing any significant damage. The ship's helicopter was used to carry out an aerial survey in the immediate aftermath to provide the islands' authorities with a detailed damage assessment.
However the arrival of Hurricane Tomas meant immediate assistance was required as it hit St Lucia with wind and rain tearing through the small towns, causing mudslides and destroying infrastructure such as access roads and buildings.
HMS Manchester was called at short notice to help in the main town of Soufriere and the surrounding areas which were remote and cut off from any sources of aid. The ship's company were ashore for two days during which time they searched for survivors, repaired and cleared mud from the hospital and other buildings, provided fresh water, power and hot food. They even managed to erect some swings for the local children, generally helping the town to start to get back on its feet.
During the deployment, the ship visited all the British Overseas Territories and many of the other Caribbean islands, in support of the government's wider diplomatic efforts in the region. The highlight of these visits was the entry into Havana in Cuba - with HMS Manchester being the first British warship to visit for 53 years. The visit was used by the UK Government to strengthen the collaboration between the UK and Cuba and, in particular, the shared priorities of counter-narcotics and disaster response
While HMS Manchester was deployed, the ship's company were keen to find ways to assist those less fortunate than themselves. During several visits, help was offered to the local communities whether that was clearing a recreational area, painting a house or helping at a holiday scheme for disabled children. On top of this charity events were held onboard while at sea to raise money for Broughton House in Manchester, a hospice for ex servicemen. The sum of £2,090 has been raised overall which will be presented when the ship visits Manchester next year.