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HMS Mersey's island-hopping Caribbean adventure

15 June 2016
From Nature’s unstoppable fury to humanity’s insatiable appetite for pleasure and leisure – the crew of HMS Mersey have been treated to both on their Caribbean island-hopping adventure.

They measured up against some of the largest cruise liners on the Seven Seas and witnessed the devastation on Montserrat where large swathes of the island remain off limits following the eruption of the Soufrière Hills volcano 20 years ago.

Two decades later, two thirds of the British territory remain off limits, including the former capital Plymouth, but the sailors were given the rare opportunity to look around this ‘forbidden zone’ when the patrol ship paid a three-day visit to Montserrat waters.

“Visiting the island’s devastation highlighted the significant impact the eruption has had on Montserrat over the past two decades,” said Surgeon Lieutenant Thomas Clingo, Mersey’s medical officer, who toured abandoned homes and communities with shipmates.

I really enjoyed my time on board the Lignum Vitae, seeing how another naval force works – it’s been great opportunity to teach what I know and learn new skills.

AB Ben Wood

Since the mid-90s, the island’s 5,000 inhabitants have lived on the north side of Montserrat where a new capital (including port) is being built at Little Bay.

It’s still under construction, so Mersey dropped anchor to embark governor Elizabeth Carrierre and the island’s deputy premiere Delmaude Ryan for lunch and discussions over how the RN might help Montserrat in the event of another emergency (HMS Liverpool was instrumental in evacuation efforts when the volcano erupted in the ’90s).

Before departing, the warship embarked eight personnel from the local police, customs and defence force for a covert patrol of the island’s waters and received some engineering and navigational hints from Mersey’s respective departments.

Such co-operation with the local authorities continued 1,100 miles away in the Bahamas where the Royal Bahamian Defence Force were given a comprehensive insight into everything Mersey’s 40 or so crew might be expected to deal with: fire, flood, breakdowns, providing medical assistance, launching her sea boats – insights made easier by the fact that a good number of the Bahamian officers had been trained at Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth.

“It was fantastic to meet people from completely different backgrounds, to share experiences, swap stories and show the Bahamians what we do on board Mersey,” said Sub Lieutenant David King.

The visit to the Bahamas also gave Mersey’s sailors some downtime to enjoy the sands and hotels of one of the world’s most popular beach destinations.

The patrol ship was given a berth in an empty cruise liner port when she arrived, but soon found herself dwarfed by five mighty liners disgorging tourists, including the 110,000 tonne Carnival Freedom (a floating pleasure palace for 4,000 passengers and crew) and the 70,000 tonne Carnival Ecstasy (‘only’ home to 3,500 souls).

Both of which were considerably larger than the Bahamians new 98ft patrol craft, the Lignum Vitae (it’s a type of wood heavily used in shipbuilding and the national tree of the Bahamas), which conducted a series of exercises and manoeuvres in close proximity to Mersey with sailors from both vessels trading places.

“I really enjoyed my time on board the Lignum Vitae, seeing how another naval force works – it’s been great opportunity to teach what I know and learn new skills,” said seaman specialist AB Ben Wood.

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