20 August, 2020

Royal Navy aviators preparing for demanding disaster relief exercises on the British Virgin Islands.

The Royal Navy task group in the Caribbean are preparing for demanding disaster relief exercises on the British Virgin Islands.

Commando Merlin helicopters of 845 Naval Air Squadron have flown reassurance patrols and carried out reconnaissance over the islands ahead of the training, which will prepare troops for relief operations on the British Overseas Territory in the event of a hurricane.

HMS Medway and RFA Argus are at the centre of the task group, which is in the Caribbean for hurricane season work and to carry out counter-narcotics operations.

The ships dropped anchor near to Spanish Town, on the island of Virgin Gorda – whose residents received crucial aid from Britain's armed forces in the wake of Hurricane Irma back in 2017.

There, they transferred stores and delivered mail to the crews for the first time in two months.

It was also a chance to carry out valuable fast roping training on to the deck of Medway for the Mobile Air Operations Team from Commando Helicopter Force.

Now the task group’s focus is on Humanitarian and Disaster Relief training on Norman Island, at the southern tip of the British Virgin Islands archipelago.

Royal Navy Commander Kate Muir, the head of the UK Task Group, said: “We are well positioned and prepared to offer support to British Virgin Islands in the aftermath of a hurricane, if it is needed.

“As with any activity, we become more effective each time we practice, which is why I am grateful to the Governor and the Premier to have this chance to exercise on Norman Island."

Before meeting off Virgin Gorda – the third largest of the string of islands – Offshore Patrol Vessel Medway collected crucial stores and mail, which was then offloaded to the support ship Argus.

Nearly four tonnes of stores were moved by helicopter along with ninety-five bags of mail – an important dose of morale for the sailors on Argus who had not received any items in months.

To help lift the stores, Argus’ embarked Mobile Air Operations Team were needed to secure the loads to the Merlin helicopters.

They combined this with a training serial and were able to fast rope down onto the deck of Medway, key training that may well be needed for any difficult landings during hurricane season.

On completion of the moves, the helicopters from 845 NAS completed a series of reassurance patrols and recces of the British Virgin Islands.

The Governor of the British Virgin Islands, Gus Jaspert, said: “Due to the (Covid-19) pandemic, this year’s hurricane season presents an unprecedented challenge and preparation is more important than ever.

“This exercise will make sure that if the territory does need extra help after a storm, the crew on board RFA Argus can effectively respond – in a way that protects public health and meets our greatest needs. As always, the safety and security of the people of the British Virgin Islands is top priority.”

All photos  Royal Navy / Crown copyright 

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