HMS Sutherland's Merlin Flight home for Christmas
A team from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose has arrived home from their six-month deployment to the Indian Ocean having supported the ongoing fight against piracy and people/drug trafficking. The sailors will now enjoy some well-earned shore leave, being home with their families just in time for Christmas.
HMS Sutherland, a Type 23 Frigate from HMNB Devonport, Plymouth has been the home for the past six months to the aircrew and engineers from a group of Royal Naval personnel from 829 Naval Air Squadron. The Merlin Helicopter flight sailed to the Indian Ocean and the Gulf to take part in the multi-national tasking in the region. Their mission was to assist in counter piracy operations as well as surveillance for counter drug, people and weapon trafficking.
The team from Culdrose, headed by Lieutenant Earl Kingston, has been heavily involved with patrolling thousands of miles of ocean in temperatures reaching over 40 deg C, ensuring the safe passage of vessels as they transit some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
It has been a very busy deployment for the Cornish-based personnel. With two Royal Marines embarked, the aircrew have scoured shorelines and open oceans for suspicious vessels, provided protection for boarding operations, conducted lifting of stores from replenishment ships and airlifted various compassionate cases into a variety of different countries for onward travel.
The flight’s engineers had had a particularly challenging time, having to maintain the aircraft in hangar temperatures of over 50 degrees and 90% humidity. Not only does the heat and humidity make it very difficult to work on a very hot aircraft, but the conditions present the team with challenges not normally experienced at the flight’s more temperate Cornish home.
Both Ship and Flight have conducted many port visits ranging from Dubai in the UAE to Tanzania in Africa, where they hosted visits by foreign dignitaries, local schools, and host nation forces. They have helped restore an orphanage, visited the lost city of Petra, been invited to watch the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and played various football matches with local teams. They also had a visit from King Neptune as the ship crossed the equator on her passage down to Tanzania.
The team have since handed over to another Culdrose-based ‘Flight’ onboard sister ship HMS Northumberland who are now performing operations in the Gulf for the next six months. Lt Kingston, the Flight Commander said: “After such a busy 6 months away, I was thrilled to see my wife waiting for me as we landed at Culdrose. It’s great to be home for Christmas.”