Families have waved off the crew of Royal Navy minehunter HMS Chiddingfold as it set sail for a three-year deployment to the Middle East.
The 37-year-old warship departed Portsmouth Naval Base with its 47-strong crew for the 5,000-mile journey to Bahrain.
A normal farewell at the base for the crew was cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic so families waved them off from the Round Tower in Old Portsmouth, a traditional viewing point at the mouth of the historic harbour.
Chiddingfold will be accompanied by Clyde-based HMS Penzance and the pair of ships will relieve two of the four minehunters currently deployed in the Gulf to protect shipping lanes essential to the oil industry.
Although the Hunt-class warship will be deployed for a period of about three years, the crew will rotate on a four-monthly basis, a reduction of the previous six-month shift system.
Farewell to â¦@HMSChiddingfoldâ© which has left us for several years in the Gulf, but weâll see her crew back in the UK in about four months thanks to a new way of rotating mine hunter crews deployed there. pic.twitter.com/ID3HHwpDat— HMNB Portsmouth (@HMNBPortsmouth) June 10, 2020
Chiddingfold’s commanding officer Lieutenant Commander Tom Harrison said: “The crew have worked incredibly hard to get to this stage and I am hugely confident they will continue to perform to a high standard, particularly with the introduction of four-month deployments.”
Chiddingfold is equipped with a high definition sonar, SeaFox underwater drone vehicles and eight Royal Navy divers.
Leading diver Michael Bell, from Newcastle Upon Tyne, said: “It’s a great atmosphere on board, everyone is ready to get out there and get it done.”
Crew member Leading Seaman Tom Watkins, 29, from Liverpool, welcomed the new shorter deployment period and said: “It’ll allow me greater stability to plan my life more and improve my home life.”