Sunderland's adopted warship returns to River Wear

The River Wear is familiar with vessels bustling past its banks, but at dawn this morning it was dealing with an altogether different sea animal.

HMS Ocean was back. More than 20,000 tonnes of prime Navy Warship, equipped with amphibious assault vehicles and enough space for 18 Sea King helicopters. But fortunately for Wearside, she is not here for war. She was coming back to her second home to celebrate.

The crew are renewing their historic tie with the city, by parading through the streets on Saturday. They were awarded Freedom of the City in 2004 due to the ship's long affiliation to the city.

For two of the 400-odd crew, it was just good to be back.

John-Paul Stevenson from Hartlepool said: "It's good. I haven't been home in a while, so I'll go home back to my mum and hopefully she'll be surprised. Unless she's watching the telly!"

For Jeremy Blackburn the plans were simple: "Head home. See the family. Pat the dog. And go out in the hills," he smiled.

The parade is only one part of a four-day stay in Sunderland. Arguably, Sunday is the biggest day: HMS Ocean will open its doors to the public. It is a chance to enjoy the public's admiration for the navy's biggest warship.

Just nine months ago, she was berthed off the coast of Libya helping in more than 40 air strikes on installations tied to Colonel Gaddafi's troubled regime.

Captain Andrew Betton said: "We embarked 13 different helicopters, primarily the Apache attack helicopters which provided the spear of our contribution. We operated off the coast of Libya, night after night, for four months. It was a taxing experience."

This weekend will offer a chance to relax, although technically it is a working weekend. But expect to see sailors in Sunderland.

As the Captain put it succinctly: "The crew are looking forward to the North East night life."