Skip to content
Recruiting now.Explore navy careers

Royal Navy leads charge in humanitarian response

8 September 2017
British sailors and soldiers dealing with the aftermath of Caribbean hurricanes have a wealth of training and decades of experience to draw upon.

Earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, typhoons, floods - the Royal Navy has assisted in the wake of all of them.

Sailors have helped out following natural disasters going back to at least before World War 2: earthquakes in Chile, HMS Daring is still remembered in Kefalonia for the help her sailors provided in 1953, HMS Liverpool played a key role in the evacuation of Montserrat following a volcanic eruption, and, more recently, restored crucial infrastructure in Sri Lanka after 2004's biblical tsunami, Haiti in 2010 after a similarly-devastating quake, and in the Philippines in 2013 after the strongest typhoon ever recorded when HMS Illustrious and Daring spent weeks in the region.

During the latter operation, codenamed Patwin, the Royal Navy:

  • helped more than 22,000 people,
  • provided 16,000 litres of drinking water - enough to fill the fuel tanks of almost 300 family cars,
  • delivered nearly 70 tonnes of food,
  • distributed nearly 400 shelter packs,
  • delivered 10,000 sheets of tarpaulin to help people rebuild their homes.

Although the scale of the relief operations can differ wildly - the past few hurricane seasons in the Caribbean have been comparatively quiet - every warship which deploys on operations must demonstrate its ability to help out and goes through a DISTEX (DISasTer relief EXercise) at a specialist training facility.

All manner of chaos and mayhem is recreated at the former depot at Bull Point, on the northwestern edge of Devonport Naval Base in Plymouth: fires, floods, crashed cars, vehicles stuck in rivers, collapsed buildings and bridges, leaking water supplies, downed electricity wires - everything you might expect in the wake of a storm, earthquake, or tsunami.

For ships assigned to the Caribbean in the autumn, when hurricanes are expected to inflict damage, extra emergency supplies, vehicles and personnel - a Humanitarian Aid/Disaster Relief team, normally comprising soldiers and Royal Marines - join the ship in the UK before it deploys.

In RFA Mounts Bay's case she took on board tractors, diggers, trucks, quad bikes, command and all-terrain vehicles - ideal for getting around devastated island communities, moving earth, clearing roads.

Once in the Caribbean, the ship makes a point of visiting the islands likely to be affected, demonstrating the equipment on board and the abilities of the sailors, soldiers and Royal Marines, who also discuss with island leaders and emergency planners.

Mounts Bay did just that in Anguilla when she visited in July, scouting for potential places to put vehicles ashore and conducting a combined disaster relief exercise with local authorities.

Related articles

Navy News Magazine

We bring you the latest news, features and award-winning photographs from the front-line. Navy News has been reporting on all that happens in the Royal Navy and its wider community since 1954.