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21 April 2010, 12:31 | Updated: 22 April 2010, 11:11
The Armed Forces have been hailed as "absolutely brilliant'' by passengers who arrived in Portsmouth on board a Royal Navy amphibious assault ship after being stranded in Spain.
HMS Albion docked at Portsmouth Naval Base on Wednesday night, carrying 280 civilians and 440 troops, having picked up its load of passengers from Santander on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown ordered the 18,500-tonne warship to help bring the forces personnel home after they got stuck as they returned from operations in Afghanistan. Aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and helicopter carrier HMS Ocean were also deployed to assist in returning stranded Britons to the UK.
The troops which returned on board Albion included soldiers, members of IX Squadron RAF, which operates Tornado jets and is based at RAF Marham, near King's Lynn, Norfolk, and medics from 33 Field Hospital based in Gosport, Hampshire. Caught up in the disruption caused by the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud that grounded flights across northern Europe, they flew first to Cyprus, where they had to wait before flying on to Spain to be picked up by Albion.
Among the civilians on board Albion were a group of teenage boys on a football tour and Stanley Johnson, the father of London Mayor Boris Johnson, who was held up returning from a trip to the Galapagos Islands. The members of the public who were brought back on Albion were chosen as being among the "most vulnerable stranded British citizens'' in Spain. The civilians shared navy rations with the troops on board, which included fish and chips and curry.
Albion's executive officer, Commander John Gardner, said: "We have spent the past six months training for whatever operations might come our way and the ship is well prepared for just this eventuality. We are delighted to be returning the soldiers, airmen and medics, who have endured an arduous past six months, to their families. That we can support the repatriation of those stranded abroad as well is a bonus.''
On arrival at Portsmouth, the civilians were taken by bus to the Hampshire city's transport hub where they were met by Portsmouth City Council staff and Salvation Army and St John Ambulance volunteers to assist them with their onward travel.