Royal Navy helicopter carrier HMS Ocean on Friday returned to Devonport Naval Base for the final time as a commissioned Royal Navy ship.
The flagship entered Plymouth welcomed by well-wishers and flanked by landing craft and tugs firing water hoses high into the air.
The amphibious helicopter and commando carrier sailed into Devonport Naval Base with her decks lined by the crew in dress uniforms, and with the traditional 203-meter decommissioning pennant flying.
She is to decommission from the Royal Navy at a ceremony in Devonport on March 27.
“My ship’s company and I are immensely proud to serve in HMS Ocean, the fleet flagship of the Royal Navy, as I am sure the people of Plymouth are proud their city has been home to the ship for nearly two decades,” The commanding officer of HMS Ocean, Captain Robert Pedre, said.
“Our final entry into Devonport will understandably be tinged with sadness, as we reflect on a truly remarkable operational period for HMS Ocean and the many significant achievements we have accomplished together on this great warship.”
In her 20 years of service, HMS Ocean has been involved in operations off Sierra Leone (2000), off Iraq (2003), off Libya (2011) and, most recently, humanitarian operations in the Caribbean.
The return to Plymouth was especially meaningful for six of the crew who were at the beginning of the ship’s career 20 years ago.
The most senior senior-rating on board, Executive Warrant Officer Carl Steedman, of Sussex, served on board HMS Ocean for three years at the beginning of his career including before the ship actually entered service in 1998 and then joined again 15 years later.
“It’s fantastic to be serving on board and see the ship coming home for the last time more than 20 years after I joined her while she was in-build and to take her into service – I saw her hull from red undercoat to battleship grey,” he said.
Last year HMS Ocean completed the last three months of a seven-month operational deployment to the Middle East as flagship of the normally US-led Combined Task Force 50, and deployed as a NATO flagship in the summer.
HMS Ocean was launched in 1995 and has a crew of 400 personnel, including 9 Assault Squadron Royal Marines, who operate the four Mk5 Landing Craft Vehicle and Personnel, providing the projection of fighting capability ashore.
The decision to decommission HMS Ocean was made as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) 2015. No final decisions on a disposal have been made, the Royal Navy said. This is in contrast to widely-circulated reports which indicated the helicopter carrier would be sold to Brazil.
The new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers will eventually take on the role as the nation’s new flagships.