FOUR NATO warships will be docking at a North-East port, as part of a scheduled four-day recuperation process.

Belgian vessel BNS Bellis and Dutch vessels HNLMS Vlaardingen, HNLMS Urk and HNLMS Schiedam will be sailing in to the Port of Sunderland on Friday, September 20, and will be docked at Jubilee Quay until Monday, September 23 to allow crew a resting period after carrying out mine sweeping and detecting exercises in Scotland.

The task group, made up of staff from the Mine Countermeasures Squadron, which operates to ensure that weaponry left from the World Wars is safely disposed of, has been engaging in training exercises off the coast of the UK to improve mine sweeping skills in different depths of water and seabed types.

Matthew Hunt, port director, believes that the warships’ presence at the port will represent a very visible sign of the strides the port is taking in opening its facilities to attract a wide range of vessels and operational activities.

He said: “We have believed for a long time that Port of Sunderland has a special and quite unique offer and the recent visit of Skandi Acergy, one of the world’s largest oil and gas subsea engineering vessels demonstrated the scale in which we are capable of operating. 

"The Mine Countermeasures Squadron arrival is an exciting prospect as it poses a great opportunity to further showcase our Port facilities and capacity that is available here for a whole range of different operations.

“I look forward to welcoming the squadron on behalf of the Port of Sunderland and I know the warships will be assured of a very warm welcome in Sunderland.”

Royal Navy regional liaison officer, Lieutenant Commander Charles Wood, recognises the visit as a perfect opportunity to identify the Port of Sunderland’s capabilities.

He said: “It’s a delight to bring the NATO Task Group to the Port of Sunderland and the team are looking forward to a few days off after a two week exercise in Scotland.  As the Port of Sunderland is a new base for many crew members, it’s a great opportunity to explore new grounds and really see what the port has to offer for future operations.”

Councillor Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council and chair of the Port of Sunderland board, said: “Port of Sunderland is almost unique in terms of its closeness to the city centre, so it’s a great place for vessels to stop off and I’m delighted the Mine Countermeasures Squadron will have a few days of recuperating to explore the city and the wider North East.

“It’s great to see that the port is bringing people in to the city and giving them the opportunity to see all Sunderland has to offer.”