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HMS Albion tackles three-day disaster relief exercise

HMS Albion tackles three-day disaster relief exercise
28 November 2017
Sailors and marines from future flagship HMS Albion faced their toughest test yet during an action-packed weekend in Plymouth Sound.

The crew of the assault ship dealt with fires, floods, trapped babies and a mass evacuation of British citizens - the humanitarian element of their training to return to front-line duties for the first time since 2010.

The Devonport-based warship is into the final fortnight of six weeks of Operational Sea Training - the 'pre-season training' every Royal Navy warship must pass before heading off on deployment.

Every ship, no matter the size, must complete a disaster exercise as part of that training - given the regularity with which Naval vessels conduct relief missions around the globe.

As a flagship and carrying JCBs, heavy lifting equipment, landing craft and vast supplies, Albion is able to do far more than a frigate or destroyer.

So her ship's company of 330, boosted by Zulu Company 45 Commando, are expected to do much more: a three-day disaster relief/humanitarian aid/evacuation operation, played out in Devonport Naval Base and across the Hamoaze in Bull Point, where abandoned military buildings have been turned into a disaster site.

This is a massive exercise for us - one of the key parts of our training and one we have to get right

Captain Tim Neild, HMS Albion's Commanding Officer

For added realism, the Lord Mayor of Chester, Razia Daniels, visiting her city's affiliated ship to observe progress, played the role of Bull Point's shocked leader.

As well as local volunteers from Casualty Union, who pretended to be injured or distressed villagers, local Royal Marines cadets and students from Loughborough College bolstered the numbers of those needing help.

Four drama students from the Leicestershire centre academy were given special roles as vulnerable residents trapped by rising waters, while tutor Vicki Calvert-Gooch played a distraught mum.

"There's very little like this anywhere in the country, so it's a fantastic training environment and the students can really get their teeth into their roles, created back stories to make everything realistic," Vicki explained.

She waited an hour for Albion's teams to find her 'daughter' Lauren, babysitting a child just weeks old.

The teenager was finally located in a flooded tunnel between two buildings in danger of collapse. Two sailors waded in and braved near freezing waters, spending half an hour shoring up the walls with planks and blocks of wood, while first aider Std Charley Denham offered verbal comfort: "The baby's crying. That's a good sign. Just hang on there and we'll have you out."

Nearly two hours after her ordeal began, Lauren was lifted to safety, a blanket wrapped around her and the 'baby' - just a battery-powered doll - as medics offered help.

"This is what we train for, this is what we're here for," said Leading Medical Assistant Claire Field, on her third disaster relief exercise.

"It's great to put your training into practice. You learn something every time you do this, which makes it really fulfilling. And it's great to see everyone from the ship, from all departments, coming together as a team and all working together."

Elsewhere a car had smashed into Bull Point's water mains; the driver was trapped and unconscious, water spewed across the main road. A fire raged in another car which had crashed when Hurricane Vanessa struck. Royal Marines Cadets wandered the village looking for their parents, before they were corralled outside the community centre where they received sweets, chocolate and hot drinks from the 65-strong Albion team.

By early afternoon, Bull Point was restored to some form of normality, but across the water in Devonport growing civil and military unrest meant more than 100 British citizens needed evacuating.

Royal Marines had to safeguard the jetty, while sailors checked the details - and luggage - of 'entitled persons' to make sure no suspicious characters sneaked on board Albion.

"This is a massive exercise for us - one of the key parts of our training and one we have to get right," said Captain Tim Neild, HMS Albion's Commanding Officer.

"We have seen HMS Ocean and RFA Mounts Bay do this for real in the Caribbean recently. It's down to us to emulate their success.

"It's an exercise where we role up our sleeves and get stuck in. When it's real, the reputation of the United Kingdom is at stake."

The focus of the training - and location - now shifts to Pentewan Sands near St Austell and a full roll-out of Albion's amphibious equipment with the Royal Marines conducting beach landings on Wednesday.

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