The Royal Navy’s Caribbean task group has joined forces for the first time this year – taking part in the region’s largest military exercise.
Fresh from delivering tonnes of aid to the people of St Vincent after their lives were turned upside down by a volcanic eruption, support ship RFA Wave Knight linked up with patrol vessel HMS Medway for Tradewinds off the coast of Guyana in South America.
The fortnight-long exercise is run by the US military and concentrates on the ability of military and law enforcement agencies across the Caribbean and Caribbean basin to work together with the focus on stopping the trafficking of illegal narcotics and providing humanitarian assistance/disaster relief.
Guyana was due to host the exercise last year but Covid postponed the 36th iteration of Tradewinds – in which Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships regularly participate – until this June.
Thirteen nations committed to Tradewinds 2021 among them the Netherlands, France and Canada as well as the hosts.
On the water, the British vessels were joined by French patrol vessels Dumont d’Urville and La Confiance, US Coast Guard Cutter Winslow Griesser, Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard Cutter Jaguar P-810, Canadian coastal defence vessel HMCS Shawinigan and Guyana coast guard ship Essequibo.
They practised combined manoeuvres with the various participants just 250 yards apart – relatively simple for smaller, nimble vessels like Medway and the coast guard cutters, less so for a 30,000-tonne tanker like Wave Knight, a large-scale air defence exercise which was a rare test of the RFA’s gunnery/warfare skills,
Wave Knight’s Wildcat helicopter – callsign Knightrider – tested the response of gunnery teams on the tanker and Medway, practised rescuing by winching sailors from confined decks, and worked with boarding teams in preparation for counter-drugs operations, when its commando sniper team will provide cover for personnel.
“Our experience, expertise and ability to work closely with our allies and partners contributed significantly in making Exercise Tradewinds a success,” said Captain Simon Herbert RFA, Wave Knight’s Commanding Officer.
“The UK is committed to the Caribbean and has demonstrated a clear obligation to our Overseas Territories in the region, our Commonwealth partners and allies.”
Lieutenant Sam Stallard, HMS Medway’s navigator, added: “It’s been really great to work with our partners during Tradewinds. After two weeks of training together, it will be much easier to cooperate in the months ahead.”
His ship and Wave Knight are paying a brief visit to Bridgetown, Barbados, this weekend before resuming their patrols under the direction of task group commander, Commander Brian Trim.
HMS Medway provides the Royal Navy’s permanent presence in the Caribbean and is now into her second storm season; last year she worked extensively with RFA Argus – although thankfully there was no major disaster which required their involvement.
Tanker Wave Knight left the UK last night to provide extra support, bolstered by a Wildcat helicopter, humanitarian aid and emergency supplies, and specialist troops from 24 Commando, Royal Engineers.
Commander Trim is hoping Nature will be kind again, but experience dictates that a high-category hurricane barrels through the many islands in the region every couple of years.
“While we hope for the best, we must prepare for the worst. These ships are the first-responders of the UK’s plan for disaster relief in the Caribbean. We are all are proud to be working together with local authorities, helping people when they need it most.
“We have worked hard over the last few months to get ready for this role, and we will keep on training and preparing, learning from and cooperating with our partners in the Caribbean.”
The next key diary date for the two ships after Barbados is a three-day disaster-relief exercise in Montserrat in early July, the first time both vessels have been able to demonstrate their combined abilities to provide help.