THE crew of Sunderland’s adopted warship are to parade through the city to mark their return from a Middle East war zone.
The march, which is expected to feature more than 200 sailors, will be part of a four-day visit to Wearside next month.
Last year, the vessel saw active service off the coast of Libya, where she helped launch Apache attack helicopters against pro-Muammar Gaddafi forces.
Councillor Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “It is great news to hear that HMS Ocean is coming back to Sunderland for four days.
“This city is very proud of its links with the forces and especially proud of its links with the senior service.”
HMS Ocean, which was granted Freedom of the City status in 2004, last visited Sunderland in 2009.
Coun Watson said: “I’m sure the people of Sunderland and the region will again welcome HMS Ocean and her crew. Everyone here is very proud to have this close affiliation with the Royal Navy’s largest ship.
“These links with the Royal Navy and maritime history are embedded in Sunderland’s rich heritage.”
HMS Ocean is due to dock at the Port of Sunderland’s Corporation Quay on May 24 and a programme of events is being drawn-up.
As well as the parade, the ship will be opened up to the public for guided tours and a group of sailors and marines will be racing her back to Plymouth on bikes in aid of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity and Grace House North East Children’s Hospice.
Captain Andrew Betton, commanding officer of HMS Ocean, said: “HMS Ocean has always cherished her links with the people of Sunderland and everybody on board is genuinely thrilled about bringing the ship home to her affiliated city.
“The opportunity of exercising our Freedom of the City and then opening our doors to the people of Sunderland to show them this unique ship will make this a truly memorable visit.”
Last year, HMS Ocean spent 176 of the 229 days she was away from the UK at sea and steaming 40,000 miles in that time.
She was rewarded with the Royal Navy’s effectiveness trophy for the second year running.
During the London 2012 Olympic Games, she will be moored in Greenwich to provide logistics support, accommodation and a helicopter landing site.
The Sunderland parade, led by the Band of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, is expected to take place on the afternoon of Saturday, May 26.
The guided tours are due to be held on Sunday, May 27, before she sails the following day.