The Royal Navy’s Caribbean task group has shown the people of Montserrat – and islanders across the region – what it can do should disaster strike.
A three-day intensive work out for RFA Wave Knight and HMS Medway, their sailors, soldiers and marines, plus helicopter was the first test of their combined response this summer.
Working with the Montserrat disaster management agency, the task group landed a troop of commando engineers on the edge of the island’s volcanic zone.
The navy task force – comprising tanker/support ship RFA Wave Knight, patrol vessel HMS Medway and a Wildcat helicopter – stayed just off the coast throughout the exercise. Ashore, the troops practised methods of re-opening roads after a disaster.
The Wildcat was kept busy every day, flying water ashore for the troops and getting photos from around the island to support planning.
Montserrat is no stranger to disaster – two-thirds of the island are still out-of-bounds following volcanic eruptions a quarter of a century ago. While a terrible tragedy for the local people, the ruined towns in the restricted zone are now an excellent training area for disaster relief.
“The island is beautiful, of course, but as a training area it’s brilliant. We were able to photograph damaged areas, as part of the exercise, but also to get photos of important buildings in the north of the island. These will help us understand the situation more quickly if a hurricane does hit Montserrat,” said Wildcat pilot Lieutenant Commander Eifion Parri.
The task group carries specialist equipment, emergency supplies and 166 highly-trained men and women, including a dedicated humanitarian aid/disaster relief team of commando engineers from the Army’s 24 Commando.
Having operated together in the Caribbean over the past four weeks – including participation in the major regional exercise Tradewinds – the group has been honing its skills to support both UK Overseas Territories and other islands across the Caribbean.
“I enormously grateful to the people of Montserrat for inviting us to train on their island.” said Task Group Commander, Commander Brian Trim. “Training in the restricted zone was an ideal way to keep our skills sharp, while also keeping Covid-safe.”
HMS Medway provides the Royal Navy’s permanent presence in the Caribbean and is now into her second storm season, while tanker Wave Knight picks up where RFA Argus left off at the end of last year.
A team of commando engineers operates from the ships, bringing specialist skills to help out ashore, including using chainsaws and controlled demolitions to clear blocked roads.
“We’ve worked in partnership with the head of Disaster Management here on the island, and soldiers from the Montserrat Regiment were also able to learn – at a safe distance – by observing our training,” explained Captain Jake Lott, leading the Commando Engineers ashore.
“They have the knowledge and equipment to handle most of the problems ashore, but by using our specialist skills – like demolitions and advanced chainsaw techniques, we can open the roads more quickly.”
Backing up the ships, there are hundreds more people – and additional equipment – held at very high readiness in the UK, ready to fly into the region and support disaster relief efforts as part of Operation Ventus.