DRESSED in their finest regalia, officers and ratings from HMS Ocean brought Wearside to a standstill.
Hundreds lined the streets to see the 300-strong crew from Sunderland’s adopted warship exercise their right to parade through the city centre.
Many of the wells-wishers were family members of the sailors who serve aboard the ship.
The Freedom Parade began at Burdon Road, followed by a march through Fawcett Street, High Street West, Union Street, Market Square, Waterloo Place and Holmeside.
Graham and Liz Hampson made the journey from Cockermouth in Cumbria to see their son John, 18, parade.
“It’s been fantastic, just lovely. We feel very proud to see him here today,” said Liz.
James Williams, 44, from Middlesbrough, lined the streets to cheer on son Matthew, 24. “This is the first chance I’ve had to see him parade and it was very emotional,” he said.
Dulcie Noble, 73, waved her Union flag to support son Jonathan Noble, 47. The dad-of-four is an officer aboard the vessel.
She said: “It’s very moving when you see them, to think how brave they are. These parades are very important, they have to be seen and acknowledged, especially in a civic manner.”
Led by The Band of HM Royal Marines Scotland, the freedom parade was part of a four-day visit by the Royal Navy’s largest serving warship.
HMS Ocean and her crew were granted the freedom in 2004 and she last visited in May 2012. This year the salute was taken by Mayor of Sunderland, Councillor Stuart Porthouse, who welcomed the ship’s company to the city.
He said: “It’s been absolutely marvellous to see them parade. We don’t have many naval bases in the North East, but we have tremendous recruiting from here. I’ve been on board a couple of times and when you speak to the sailors they always say how much they love coming to Sunderland. They say the people are very friendly and they always have a great time.”
HMS Ocean is berthed at the Port of Sunderland’s Corporation Quay and is open to the public tomorrow from 1pm to 6pm and Monday from 11am to 5pm.
In addition to the Freedom Parade and being open to the public, ship’s crew are taking part in the Sunderland Half Marathon tomorrow.