A Royal Navy survey vessel that has gone beyond its primary mandates to take part in many global missions and assisted with humanitarian crises including the Beirut Port blast has been decommissioned after a career spanning more than two decades traveled 500,000 miles. The HMS Pursuewhich was considered one of the most versatile ships in the Royal Navy and was the second of two Echo-class survey ships alongside HMS echowas decommissioned 30 March at Portsmouth Naval Base, completing 20 years of service.
The Pursue, the tenth ship in the Royal Navy’s developing fleet to bear the name, was ordered in 2000 and built by the historic Appledore Shipbuilders, now working on a fresh start after being acquired by Harland & Wolff. Named by Lady Sally Forbes, the ship was commissioned in 2003 to conduct hydrographic and oceanographic operations around the world, alongside ensuring safe navigation on and under the water, and acted as a floating base for mine countermeasures activities.
Over two decades, its missions have taken the ship to all corners of the world, from Japan and the Pacific Rim, to the heat of the Gulf and the Middle East, to the icy waters of Norway and the Far North, to the Falkland Islands, the Mediterranean and Europe waters well beyond its regular hydrographic duties.
Ensign is lowered for the last time
Although the ship was not designed for humanitarian missions, it was among the first responders who helped victims of the Beirut Port explosion in August 2020. After the explosion that devastated the Lebanese capital, Pursue spent weeks supplying victims with essential supplies.
In 2014, the ship was involved in another humanitarian mission in Libya, evacuating civilians caught up in civil unrest. The ship has also long spent supporting the international operation to rescue migrants in the deadly waters of the Mediterranean. These rescue missions earned the ship the military’s highest peace award, the Firmin Sword.
Aside from humanitarian missions, the ship has been involved in a variety of activities over the past five years, ranging from searching for mines in the Arabian Gulf to saving lives and disrupting the work of human traffickers as part of a European task force, Operation Sophia.
At the decommissioning ceremony attended by Lady Sally Forbes alongside Admiral Sir Ian Forbes, Pursue Commanding Officer Commander Malcolm McCallum said the ship had rendered great service to the Royal Navy over its 20 years of service. “Throughout her service over the past two decades, she has consistently surpassed her weight, made real operational impact and represented the nation around the world. Their impact was truly global,” he said.
The Pursue was often at home in his key tasks of mapping and surveying the seabed. Over the years the ship has surveyed hundreds of thousands of square miles of seabed and in 2022 received the rare distinction of venturing closer to the North Pole than any other Royal Navy ship by sailing within 1,000 miles of the top of the world.
Crew of HMS Enterprise during the decommissioning ceremony
The ship, manned by a crew of 50 who are experts in seabed surveying and mapping, was also in the Arctic to update charts and scientific knowledge of waters increasingly patrolled by Royal Navy warships, to preserve the freedom of navigation of the high seas North.
After the decommissioning of Pursue and her sister ship echo which was decommissioned in June 2022, the Royal Navy will change its ocean survey tactics. Through the Future Military Data Gathering Program, which will be rolled out over the next 18 months, the Navy intends to use drones and autonomous systems on other ships – including merchant ships – to gather the relevant information.
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