Reception aboard a Turkish Navy Ship

A week before graduation, something quite unexpected happened. And by “unexpected” I mean it! 😀 The Turkish students at LPC received an invitation from the Turkish General Consul to a celebratory reception aboard a Turkish Naval vessel – the TC Gediz (F-495). Now you might eb wondering: what is a Turkish Navy frigate doing in Hong Kong? (I did too) Well, on 2 April 2015, the TCG Gediz set sail from Aksaz Naval base, Marmaris for a 122 day deployment, its highlight being the commemoration of the sinking of the Ottoman frigate Ertuğrul off the coast of Wakayama Prefecture in Japan 125 years ago.

Here is the history behind it: The Ertuğrul, launched in 1863, was returning from a goodwill voyage from Japan in 1890, when encountered a typhoon off the coast of Wakayama Prefecture. She subsequently drifted into a reef and sank. The maritime accident resulted in the loss of 533 sailors, including Admiral Ali Osman Pasha. Only sixty-nine sailors and officers survived and returned home later aboard two Japanese corvettes. As part of this commemoration of the sinking of the Ertugrul, the TCG Gediz follows the original route that the Ertuğrul  took 125 years ago and will visit 18 different ports in 14 countries during its journey to Japan. And lucky for Abdülhamid, Belce and me, one of those ports is Hong Kong!

Very surprised, but incredibly happy by the chance to not only board a Navy ship, but also meet fellow Turks who live in Hong Kong, and get to know the soldiers who spent their past months on board of this vessel, we dressed up in formal attire and went down to Hong Kong Island in search for the pier at which our ship was docked. Roughly an hour after we left LPC and got caught in the rain (a typical Hong Kong day in which the weather can change from sunny to thunderstorms within just a few minutes), we found the big Navy vessel that looked like  grey giant nestled against the similarly colored cement pier and resting in the calm waves that touched it repeatedly.The last time I had boarded a Navy ship was when I helped cleaning up the topdeck of the USS Missouri (BB-63) at Pearl Habour during my time in Hawai’i (which was more than two years ago), hence I could barely contain my exitement at the sight of this “big boat” in front of me 😀

We boarded the ship and were greeted by Navy soldiers in white uniforms and guided through the ship onto the helicopter landing platform that was beautifully deocrated with lights and a tent-like pavillion covering the entire area in case of rain. The flags of Hong Kong and Turkey were hanging over the entrance and making quite a wonderful sight I had not come across before. To the left of it a band consisting of soldiers was playing classics such as “Fly me to the Moon” or the Turkish version of “Sway/Quien sera” (“Kim ne derse desin” in Turkish) and giving the event a great atmosphere. Also, I absolutely love both of these songs, hence not being overexcitedly happy was not an option for me! (Not to mention that nothing makes me happier than being onboard a ship and in close proximity to the ocean).

The reception officially began with a cake-cutting by the Captin of the ship and a representative of Hong Kong, after all guests had arrived and ended with a flag-raising ceremony and a march by the soldiers. We felt proud of our heritage and seeing all the people from various backgrounds and nationalities who had come to the reception made us even prouder. We met the Consul of Greece who cracked an impressive amount of jokes among many staff from Turkish Airlines and a few lovely families who we had met before at similar events. After the formal opening the music continued and the buffet was opened, featuring everything from Turkish meze (the Turkish version of antipasti and appetizers), to kebabs, salads and different cheeses. One of the soldiers (who later turned out to be the chef of the kitchen) overeard me excitedly calling Abdülhamid after discovering that there was feta cheese (after a year of not having eaten any!) and laughingly offered to give me a big can full of feta cheese. We met quite a lot of the soldiers, had great conversations and almost felt as if we were back in Turkey (well, technically and diplomatically speaking by being onboard of the TC Gediz we were on Turkish soil). The view resembled the Bosphorus in Istanbul, with a huge bridge spanning over two islands and being illuminated by colorful lights that gave the clouds a warm light. Delicious homemade food, Turkish music, wonderful company and funny conversations about traditions accompanied by a great view – what else could we have asked for in that moment?

After having finished our plates, we joined the first table that we spotted and decided to meet everyone who was on it. At the same time, I was also frantically trying to meet (well, find) the special underwater troops and hence the divers onboard. My searching attempts seemed to have failed and I focussed entirely at the conversations at our table. Turns out that the wonderful gentleman on our table who made us laugh quite a lot were the Chief of Engine and the Lieutenant Junior Grade. After many moments of personal introduction, UWC-storytelling and cultural exchange, they offered to give us a tour of the ship and also call the head of the dive group to meet me. They showed us the top deck and all the rooms inside the ship that the public eye was allowed to see and introduced us to the weapons and technologies used on boat. Now, having mentioned that what would a blogpost about Navy Ships be without a short paragraph written in technical lingua and a bit more background information?  The TC Gediz was formerly the USS John A. Moore (FFG-19), the eleventh ship of the Oliver Hazard Perry class of guided-missile frigates. Believe it or not, most of the frigates of this class were built in the late 70s! Eight former U.S. Navy Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates have been transferred to the Turkish Navy, the other ones having been sold or donated to the Navies of Bahrain, Egypt, Poland and Pakistan. The Turkish ones all have undergone extensive advanced modernization programs, and they are now known as the G Class frigates. The Turkish Navy modernized G Class frigates have an additional Mk-41 Vertical Launch System capable of launching Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles for close-in, as well as their longer-range SM-1 missiles (that we got to see first-hand); advanced digital fire control systems and new Turkish-made sonars, as well as retroffed Turkish digital combat management system named GENESIS (Gemi Entegre Savaş İdare Sistemi)

We asked a lot of questions about their deployment, talked about Turkish Navy schools and enjoyed the spectacular view on theilluminated Hong Kong skyline view form the top decks. As the crowning end of the day, the Chief of Engine kindly invited us to his office room for a round of Turkish tea (in the traditionally tulip shaped glasses) and Turkish Coffee.

Time went by faster than we could have ever imagined and after almost three wonderful hours of great conversations about literally everything – from UWC to Turkish history to naval jobs to what we love about Asia to the soldiers adventures – it was time to go. Parting was hard as we had not had such a good time in the last weeks (particularly because the final IB exams were knocking on the door). I definitely did not feel like leaving the boat that was softly swaying in the waves and instead of getting me seasick made me feel like a baby being rocked to sleep. The chief of Engine jockingly offered me to stay and work onboard, which made me giggle considering that my parents would probably get a heart attack upon hearing this suggestion though I do have to admit that turning my love for the ocean into a job does sound quite tempting). When we arrived to school, it was one minute before 1pm, meaning that we barely made it back on time (of course after missing the last MTR train and having to take a cab) The evening was so enjoyable that the Chief of Engine invited us to come back on Sunday, the last day of the TC Gediz in Hong Kong before is journey to the next port, Qingdao, and bring along a group of friends. We were absolutely excited and spread the news as fast as was possible, considering that most people were already sleeping. My roommate Fatmata (Sierra Leone) saw the poost on our LPC facebook group before I reached the room and had left me a huge handwritten message on the table to make sure that I wake her up and take her with me 🙂

Our second day onboard of the TC Gediz was just as great, but this time we were dressed in casual shorts, T-shirts and sandals. We toured the decks of the ship again, admired the helicopters and watched videos of the crew in action before settling down on a big table and sharing coffee and tea. And of course we also read our future in the coffeegrounds 😉 The entire crew was incredibly friendly yet still maintaining professionalism and radiating an aura of respect and order. We all learned a lot about not only the TC Gediz as a ship, but the entire Naval crew onboard, the Turkish Navy and got insights into the life and challenges as well as honours of being a soldier and spending most of the year surrounded by water. As students living abroad in the age of globalization, meeting people who dedicated their lives to serving their country at the same age that we are right now or even earlier is quite rare and it is even more impressive personally meet the men who willingly spent more than thirty years in the Navy with the goal of literally “giving it all” for their country. On behalf of all of us I would like to thank the entire crew of the TC Gediz for making two days of our LPC life so insightful and enjoyable, with particularly heartfelt “thank you”s to the Chief of Engine and Junior Grade Lieutenant. Cok tesekkürler!

Abdülhamid and me are hoping to go to the Naval Base to which the TC Gediz will return this summer in order to great the crew and have a little reunion, so wait for updates!