Minehunter Returns To Portsmouth

A Royal Navy mine hunter has returned to its home base after spending six months clearing mines off the coast of Libya allowing humanitarian aid to reach the anti-Gaddafi rebels.

HMS Brocklesby sailed into Portsmouth Naval Base on Monday the 4th flying a version of the Jolly Roger flag to show it had successfully destroyed enemy targets.

Commanding officer Lieutenant Commander Jim Byron said:

''The Royal Navy has always had a great reputation for mine clearance and it is precisely this type of operation that shows the world just how good we are.

''We are extremely proud that we could use our skills and knowledge to open that port and allow humanitarian aid back into Libya where it is so desperately needed.

''Without this capability there could have been hundreds of lives lost through the detonation of that mine.

''I am so proud of my team, they just got on and did their business and they did it really really well.''

Commander-In-Chief Fleet, Admiral Sir Trevor Soar, who sailed out to meet Brocklesby as it arrived home, said that it had been the ''jewel in the crown of operations in Libya''.

He said: ''I wanted to pay tribute and say how proud I am of the effort and professionalism the ship's company has demonstrated over the past 155 days.''

Brocklesby was initially deployed as part of a Nato mine countermeasures group before it was scrambled to Libya as part of efforts to support the rebels fighting the Gaddafi government.

At the end of April, Brocklesby found and destroyed a buoyant mine laid in the port of Misrata by pro-Gaddafi forces in a bid to stop humanitarian aid from reaching the port, according to a navy spokesman.

The spokesman said:

''Despite the threat of attack from artillery fire, rockets and missiles, the mine hunter used her sonar and underwater mine disposal system Seafox to locate the mine which had been placed just a mile away from the harbour entrance.

''HMS Brocklesby then stayed in the harbour area for a further six days in range of hostile troops to continue the search for any further mines that would stop the vital aid from reaching Libyan citizens.''

The efforts meant that the MV Red Star could enter the port and evacuate more than 700 civilians injured during the fighting.

The navy spokesman said that Brocklesby's actions were the first time that a Royal Navy mine hunter had been involved in live mine clearance operations within range of hostile artillery and rockets since the campaign off the Al Faw Peninsula in 2003 during the second Gulf War.

He added that it also saw the first operational use of the Seafox Mine Disposal System against live ordinance during conflict.

The mine hunter then spent its last few weeks patrolling and mine hunting in the waters off Misrata with the role now handed over to Faslane-based HMS Bangor.