Sunderland’s adopted warship drafted in for Olympic security

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SUNDERLAND’S adopted warship has arrived in London to help boost security at the Olympic Games.

The Royal Navy’s largest ship sailed up the River Thames to take part in a major military exercise, ahead of a four-day visit to Wearside later this month.

HMS Ocean berthed at Greenwich, in east London, where it will act as a launch pad for eight Lynx helicopters and a base for Royal Marine snipers.

It is the final phase of the exercise named Olympic Guardian, which began last week in Weymouth and in the airspace over the capital.

Smaller crafts and patrol boats will accompany the ship as part of the maritime security plan.

The snipers have extensive experience of shooting the engines of fast vessels, from the Royal Navy’s fight against the drug trade in the Caribbean.

HMS Ocean travelled up the Thames before completing a complicated 180-degree turn as it reached its destination.

With the warship 38 metres wide, Captain Andrew Betton carefully guided it through “challenging” gaps of just 60 metres.

He said the ship would focus on air security over the weekend, with river operations taking place up to Thursday this week.

“That will stretch all elements of Ocean’s contribution to the security plan, and then I hope assure the security organisation that we are ready to provide the envelope required for the Olympic Games themselves.”

Capt Betton said the ship would provide vital assistance in stopping any potential threats.

“The versatility and manoeuvrability of helicopters allows them to get to the scene of action very swiftly to identify and to divert any surface vessels that are heading up the Thames, to ascertain their intentions and if necessary take action,” he said.

During the Games, the ship will also accommodate 300 military personnel who are providing security at nearby Greenwich Park, and engage with Londoners by hosting public visits.

HMS Ocean, which was granted Freedom of the City status in 2004 and last visited Wearside in 2009, is due to dock at the Port of Sunderland’s Corporation Quay on May 24.

The crew is expected to parade through the city to mark their return from Libya, where she helped launch Apache attack helicopters against pro-Muammar Gaddafi forces.

Twitter: @Sunderlandecho