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Muckle warship comes to town

HMS Somerset initially anchored off Gulberwick and Quarff before coming in to Lerwick Harbour at midday on Friday - Photo: Austin Taylor

THE LARGEST Royal Navy warship to visit Shetland in recent years has berthed in Lerwick harbour for the weekend.

The Type 23 frigate HMS Somerset stopped off on Friday morning with its 184 crew for a break and to take on fuel and stores before heading for Norway to take part in an annual NATO anti-submarine exercise.

The 133 metre vessel patrols UK waters keeping an eye out for non-NATO vessels, especially submarines, often providing an escort through the English Channel.

Commanding officer Michael Wood, the oldest member of the young crew. Photo BBC Radio Shetland

Interviewed on board the vessel by BBC Radio Shetland’s Mike Grundon, the ship’s captain Michael Wood said they had recently helped escort a new Chinese warship through the Dover Straits on its way to visit Germany.

The vessel was also involved in Britain’s largest ever drugs bust in April last year when it stopped the Turkish vessel MV Hamal 100 miles off Aberdeen with five tonnes of cocaine on board, with a street value of around £500 million.

The nine Turkish crew members are currently on trial in Glasgow. “All in a day’s work,” according to Wood.

He explained: “We are there to provide the high level of security that’s required, whether it’s search and rescue, counter narcotics, counter drugs or escorting non native navies through UK waters.

“We often see non native vessels passing the United Kingdom on their right of transit whether they are Russian or Chinese and the UK regularly goes to monitor those vessels and their activities to make sure they keep clear of UK waters.”

HMS Somerset steams past Bressay on her way into Lerwick harbour. Photo Linda Fox.

HMS Somerset was built in the 1990s, but expected to continue working until 2035. She weighs 4,500 tonnes, has a top speed of 28 knots (around 40mph) and can steam non-stop for 10,000 miles.

“She’s got the legs to reach across the Atlantic and down to the South Atlantic as well so she’s very versatile in that sense and she’s armed in all senses against anti-missile, anti-aircraft, surface gunnery, and I have a very powerful helicopter and sonar suite which allows me to spy on submarines at long range.

“So a good package for a ship of this size, and age, she’s 20 year’s old, she’s an old girl but we keep her up to date.”

Wood said he was looking forward to a weekend in Lerwick, attending the Midsummer Carnival and laying a wreath at the local war memorial.

He said the visit was also part of a recruitment drive for the Royal Navy, saying he was keen to show off the ship to the local community.

“We only exist with the support of the community and the British public,” he said.

“They own this ship, I’m keen to show it off to them and we build those relations with the community not only because they own the vessel but because we require more recruits and the more people that see the Navy the more inclined they will be to come and join us.”