A FORMER Greenock sea cadet who was part of an operation to seize a tanker suspected of carrying oil to Syria says it was an honour to bring the ship he skippers to his home town.

Captain Gerry Patterson, who was born and bred in Greenock, is the Commanding officer of RFA Tidesurge, a Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel affiliated to the town and which recently played a key role in an operation which saw 30 Royal Marines board and seize a 300,000-tonne Iranian supertanker.

Speaking exclusively to the Tele, Capt Patterson, says it was an emotional moment to bring his 39,000-tonne fleet replenishment tanker 'back home'.

He said: "When we came round the corner, the sun had just come out and the Esplanade and the Battery Park looked absolutely stunning.

"The Cross of Lorraine on Lyle Hill was shining like a beacon."

Commanding officer Patterson grew up in Finch Road and attended St Columba's High School in Gourock.

In his youth, his life changed forever when he joined the local sea cadets in Greenock at 12.

He said: "I didn't have a silver spoon in my mouth and had seven sisters and two brothers.

"I'm not from a privileged background.

"The sea cadets was definitely a formative part in my life."

After leaving school, Capt Patterson initially worked at the District Council as part of a youth employment scheme on a salary of £28.50 a week.

But he soon joined the Royal Auxiliary Fleet - one of the Royal Navy’s five fighting arms. Its 13 vessels face the risk of enemy action as they sail to replenish warships.

It takes part in military, counter-narcotics and counter-piracy operations as well as humanitarian missions.

Captain Patterson said: "I started out as an apprentice and worked my way up the ranks and I've been a captain since 2009.

"RFA Tidesurge is built to support the new aircraft carriers - we are built to go with them wherever they go.

"We offer front line support, so we face the same threats and dangers wherever they are.

"The ship is armed for self defence."

Just a few months ago, RFA Tidesurge played a crucial role in the storming of an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar, with the vessel suspected of violating EU sanctions on Syria.

Captain Patterson said: "We had originally arranged to visit Greenock about that time but we got despatched to Gibraltar and had to cancel.

"The helicopter that was used by the marines was launched from our ship."

After that, RFA Tidesurge was deployed to the Arctic Circle to protect the Northern approaches to the UK.

Commanding officer Patterson says his job as a captain is pressurised but he loves what he does.

He said: "If we are replenishing a vessel then you have to skilfully manoeuvre so that we are about only 40 metres apart.

"That's very close but that's how we have to conduct operations.

"It's a very interesting job and very fulfilling."

Despite his important work, he has has never forgotten his sea cadet roots as he is on their committee and says one of the most enjoyable parts of his job is training up new recruits.

He said: "I get the chance to effectively mould young people who are joining.

"It's great to see them develop.

"I've got nothing but respect for the staff at the sea cadets in Greenock who give up their time day-in and day-out."

This week, Capt Patterson and some of his crew members attended a ceremony at the council's Municipal Buildings with Provost Martin Brennan to mark the special link the vessel has with Greenock.

He said: "We presented the council with a plaque of the ship plus we had a print of the outline which was filled in with Inverclyde's tartan and a flag and the council handed over a flag for us."

Gerry, who is 58 and now lives in Inverkip, plans to retire in a couple of years and says he is looking forward to spending more time with his devoted wife Anne, 57, who also comes from the area, and his son Euan, 31.

He said: "Most of the seafarers generally meet and marry a girl when they are away but I met a lassie from the Port and we have been married for 33 years."