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HMS Portland

Published: 09 Aug 2011

On the bridge, first woman to command one of our warships - by Ian Drury

From the Daily Mail 8th August 2011.

Pioneering: Sarah West will be the first woman to command a frontline warship in the Royal Navy’s 500-year history.

Lieutenant Commander Sarah West, 39, will take charge of HMS Portland, a 5,000-ton Type 23 frigate that is prepared for ‘total warfare’.

Her appointment is a remarkable achievement because women were not even allowed to go to sea with the Navy until 1990. Since then, they have only taken charge of small ‘non-fighting’ ships.

Lt Cdr West herself has captained four minehunters – including her current ship Pembroke – which only carry weapons for self-defence.

However, the ten-year-old Portland carries surface-to-surface missiles for tackling ships, surface-to-air missiles for shooting down aircraft and a helicopter for hunting and destroying submarines.

It also carries a 4.5in gun, Stingray anti-submarine torpedoes and is bristling with radar and sonar devices to guide its weapons and help with navigation.

Lt Cdr West will be in charge of a crew of about 180, of which about 10 per cent are Wrens.

Senior defence sources dismissed suggestions that the Navy had caved in to political correctness by appointing a woman to captain such a powerful ship.

Instead, they said, she had seen off fierce competition from male officers to win the role on merit due to her ‘leadership, confidence, moral courage, sound judgment and excellent people skills’.

‘Lt Cdr West will have responsibility for potentially taking a crew of young sailors in a state-of-the-art warship costing hundreds of millions of pounds into a warzone,’ a source said. ‘She is hardly going to be entrusted with that purely as a token gesture.’

Lt Cdr West, from Lincolnshire, will now have to undertake a commanding officer course. She will take over the Portland in April.

The ship has been involved in missions against Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. It is the first frontline vessel to have a woman in charge since the Senior Service was founded during the reign of Henry VIII 500 years ago.


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