Well-wishers waved, tugs fired hoses high into the sky in salute and the HMS Chatham fired her ceremonial guns as the ship made her final homecoming on January 26, after 20 years of service.
Tears filled many of the eyes watching the vessel enter HM Naval Base Devonport, Plymouth – her decks lined with soldiers standing at attention.
The ship is one of four Type 22 frigates, all based in Devonport, being decommissioned as part of the government’s Strategic Defence Review.
“It was good to see lots of people come to see us sail by for the final time into Devonport, it was much appreciated,” Commander Simon Huntington said in a Ministry of Defence article. “This day was one of mixed emotions. But we have been preparing for this day for a time now. It is a privilege to be here at the final moments of a of a ship’s life. For me especially I was proud to be the last commanding officer of HMS Chatham.
“But also it was also a day tinged with sadness to see a ship, which has given 20 years of excellent service to the government and country, come to Devonport for the last time."
HMS Chatham took part in the handover of sovereignty for Hong Kong in 1997, evacuated British nationals from Sierra Leone in 2000, helped provide humanitarian aid following a tsunami in 2005, took part in the Iraq war and was a lead ship in a NATO action to counter piracy.
In May 2010 the ship rescued the crew of the merchant vessel MV Dubai Moon during a storm.
"Normally we operate close to the coast, but we had to go far out to sea to avoid pirates," Hassan Madar, the Ethiopian Master of the merchant vessel was quoted as saying in a Ministry of Defence article. "That meant we could not find shelter from the storm. If we had not been rescued by the Royal Navy and NATO we would have died with my ship. They were the only people to respond to our distress call; we owe them our lives."
Earlier this month HMS Chatham travelled to the area where she was constructed.
“This will be HMS Chatham's final visit to the Tyne, the place where she was built by Swan Hunter, and the last major event in the ship's life before she is decommissioned,” The Plymouth Herald quoted Huntingdon as saying before the trip.”
This week, he said some crew members had already left for other Royal Naval vessels and establishments, and the ship’s final fate had not yet been determined.
There were several previous ships carrying the Chatham name. According to the Royal Navy website, the earliest known Chatham was a Galliot of 91 tons, which was renamed after being captured from the French in 1666.
The most recent HMS Chatham was launched in 1988. She was equipped with guns, sonars, advanced radars, anti-missile SeaWolf missiles, anti-ship Harpoon missiles, anti-submarine Stingray torpedoes and a Lynx helicopter.
An official decommissioning ceremony will be held at the naval base on 8 February and a last parade and ceremony through the streets of Chatham in Kent will take place on 12 February.
HMS Chatham's sister ships Cornwall, Cumberland and Campbeltown will remain in service until later this year.
Images of the ship making her final arrival into her home port at Plymouth can be seen on the BBC website.