A Royal Navy task group in the Caribbean is ready to help island communities after a series of intensive workouts demonstrating their ability to react to humanitarian disasters.
The Humanitarian and Disaster Relief (HADR) capability brings together a coordinated team of commandos, engineers, aviators and sailors capable of bringing assistance to British Overseas Territories in a time of need.
The task group in the region – centred around RFA Argus and HMS Medway – ramped up its preparations for the impending hurricane season by responding to fictional scenarios in Montserrat and Turks and Caicos.
These exercises refresh knowledge of the geography of the islands and readies the task group to deliver relief by bringing troops, vehicles, rations and supplies – for rebuilding infrastructure – ashore by boat and helicopter.
Commander of the Royal Navy Task Group in the region, Captain Phil Dennis, said: “The Royal Navy is committed to supporting the safety and security of British citizens within this important region.
“We conduct training such as this to ensure we are ready to act swiftly should the call come.”
The task group is made up of: Argus, offshore patrol vessel HMS Medway, a Wildcat maritime patrol aircraft from 815 Naval Air Squadron, three Merlin troop carriers from 845 Naval Air Squadron, plus 1700 Naval Air Squadron, Royal Marines small boat specialists 47 Commando and Royal Engineers from 24 Commando.
Argus, her air group and commando teams have stopped in six Overseas Territories.
Starting in Bermuda, Argus has since been to the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Montserrat, the Cayman Islands and now Turks and Caicos.
On Montserrat, the task group responded to a simulated request from the island’s authorities and worked closely with the Royal Montserrat Defence Force.
In the deserted zones evacuated after a series of eruptions from the island’s Soufrière Hills volcano in 1997, the task group sprang into action, delivering aid ashore via helicopter and boat.
Merlin helicopters and 47 Commando practised evacuating causalities, winching on and off small boats.
“Once again the Royal Fleet Auxiliary is central to supporting the British Overseas Territories in preparation for the hurricane season,” Captain Terence Barke, Commanding Officer of RFA Argus, said, following the training on Montserrat.
“RFA Argus follows in the footsteps of RFA Mounts Bay who provided boundless support to the region in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, and Dorian in 2019.”
On Turks and Caicos, another three days of training awaited, practising delivering aid if a hurricane hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The task group is primarily in the region for hurricane season but also there to offer support to British Overseas Territories during the COVID-19 pandemic if required.
Turks and Caicos Governor Nigel Dakin phoned in a request for assistance and Argus responded:
- A Wildcat patrol helicopter of 815 Naval Air Squadron surveyed West Caicos and Ambergris Cay for damage, establishing areas in most need of assistance.
- 24 Commando Royal Engineers were sent ashore by Merlin troop carriers from 845 Naval Air Squadron to repair infrastructure.
- 47 Commando Raiding Group were responsible for beach reconnaissance, looking at where boats could drop supplies ashore.
- 3 Commando Brigade’s Crisis Response Troop set up a facility so that people could be checked for injury by medical personnel, provided with food and water, and given shelter. All this was done under simulated COVID-19 restrictions.
- Casualty evacuation procedures were carried out, ensuring an injured service person could be safely brought back aboard Argus to receive medical attention.
Disaster relief teams delivered aid stores from Argus and carried out surveys on beaches and helicopter landing sites.
Volunteers from the ship acted as local civilians in need of medical attention.
“COVID-19 has created lots of new challenges to how we would normally provide assistance,” said Lieutenant Aaron Wilding, a medical advisor on Argus.
“During this training we have been adapting our standard operating procedures to ensure that, even in the aftermath of a hurricane, the risk of exposure is protected against.”
Prior to Turks and Caicos, Argus was in the Cayman Islands, where the best helicopter landing sites in the event of a hurricane were established.
845 and 815 Naval Air Squadrons carried out patrols with the Royal Cayman Islands Police and undertook drug interdiction exercises.
Another focus of the Royal Navy’s work in the Caribbean is to counter all forms of illicit trafficking and this training was a refresher ahead of combined operations in the future.