Prince Philip once suggested that efforts to stop drug smugglers in the Caribbean with cargo bound for the UK were futile, a former head of the navy has said.

Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, who was in charge of the navy from 2009 to 2013, recalled the remark following the consort’s death on Friday.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the former first sea lord said Philip was “never shy” of telling naval commanders about areas where they could improve.

In this vein, the duke took Sir Mark to task over the perceived success of the Navy’s work to detain drug shipments in the Caribbean.

“He countered the then policy of such interdiction, saying it simply raised the price of drugs on the streets of London and had no long-lasting effect,” the former naval commander said.

“He remained pretty unconvinced, I think, from my arguments and with his usual wry smile said we better move on to better things. I was delighted to seek calmer seas. To this day I’m not sure whether he was winding me up or not,” Sir Mark added.

The duke fought in the navy during the Second World War and rose quickly through its ranks, becoming first lieutenant at the age of just 21.

He went on to become Lieutenant-Commander in 1950, later taking charge of the frigate HMS Magpie.

His naval career was cut short a year later, however, by his decision to step down from active duties to support his wife after her father George VI’s health began to deteriorate.

At the time, he did not realise this would be the end of his time in the navy. Talking decades later, he said the reality “crept” up on him and became “more and more obvious” over time.

“But it’s no good regretting things – it simply did not happen and I have been doing other things instead,” he added.

He stayed closely connected with the navy throughout his life, with the Queen appointing him as Lord High Admiral when he turned 90.

Sir Mark told the BBC that Philip “would’ve been a very, very strong contender to rise to the top and be future first sea lord” if his career had not been cut short.

Paying his respects to the Duke of Edinburgh, the current navy chief Tony Radakin said: “His Royal Highness served the Royal Navy with distinction during wartime, mentioned in dispatches for ‘bravery and enterprise’ during the Battle of Cape Matapan.”

He added that the consort had remained “an enduring friend and supporter of the Royal Navy with a deep understanding of our ethos and values”.

Additional reporting from PA

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