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RFA Argus and HMS Medway combine on Caribbean disaster relief exercises

15 June 2020
HMS Medway and RFA Argus have come together for the first time on demanding disaster relief exercises in the Caribbean.

The Royal Navy task group in the region is centred around the two ships, which are there to react in the wake of a disaster during hurricane season but also to carry out counter-narcotics operations. 

These latest exercises in the Cayman Islands were designed to show the task group’s ability to come together and work seamlessly in a crisis. 

RFA Argus, her air group of Wildcat and Merlin helicopters and commandos have already been on an extensive tour of British Overseas Territories since arriving in April.

The support ship/helicopter carrier has practised delivering vital humanitarian aid to islands across the region, including Turks and Caicos, Montserrat, the British Virgin Islands and Bermuda. 

It is the second time Argus has been to the Caymans, following a visit last month to find the best helicopter landing sites and carry out patrols and exercises with the Royal Cayman Islands Police. 

But this time the stop on the islands in the western Caribbean Sea, saw the Royal Navy’s task group, now with the addition of Offshore Patrol Vessel HMS Medway, come together to deliver what’s known as the Humanitarian Assistance Disaster Relief Capability (HADR). 

The exercises were designed to ensure that all elements are able to work together as hurricane season begins.

“It was an extremely valuable exercise to pull together all force elements in one location and work together to ensure that we are ready to deliver assistance in the event of a hurricane,” Royal Navy Lieutenant John Mason, of HMS Medway, said.

3 Commando Brigade’s Crisis Response Troop landed ashore on to the islands from both Medway and Argus. 

The commandos from 24 Commando Royal Engineers linked up with a security team stationed on the islands and a headquarters was established with communications to the ships and helicopters. 

The task group then practised evacuating casualties to the ships. 

All the training was done using PPE, testing what it would be like to react to a disaster with Covid-19 still active in the region.

“It was great to get ashore and actually trial something rather than tabletop it. It was really interesting for me to see how 24 Commando operate and work their communications systems,” Engineering Technician Harry Awome, from HMS Medway, said.

Corporal Chris Teasdale is a member of the Mobile Air Operations Team who worked to find the best helicopter landing sites and was involved in evacuating a casualty by Wildcat helicopter as part of the exercises.

“Practising HADR work is important as it proves we can access and extract from small areas,” he said. 

“This exercise was a good simulation for a real scenario where we have to account for local people, keep them at a safe distance from the helicopter and still achieve our goal quickly.”

The air group on Argus is made up of a Wildcat from 815 Naval Air Squadron, three Mk4 Merlins from the Commando Helicopter Force’s 845 Naval Air Squadron and ranks from 1700 Naval Air Squadron. 

The air group are now heading on patrols around the Cayman Islands. 

Royal Navy Pilot, and Operations Officer for the Tailored Air Group, Lieutenant Steve Doughty said: “In the Cayman Islands, we are helping out with the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, conducting routine patrols while their aircraft is down for scheduled maintenance.

“We are in the Caribbean in preparation for the upcoming hurricane season, having a look at landing sites that we might use in the future, and making sure we are ready when the time comes.”

Elsewhere in the Caribbean, a second security team are based on Turks and Caicos Islands to assist local authorities with any planning and security considerations. 

Royal Marine Captain Seb Soukup said: “We have brought Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance expertise and equipment to Turks and Caicos and are now helping the maritime branch of the Royal Turks and Caicos Police fortify its intelligence-led approach to countering illegal activity.”

Both Medway and Argus will continue to operate in the Caribbean. As well as continuing to prepare for HADR work in the hurricane season, they will be working closely with the US Coast Guard and local partners to conduct counter-narcotics operations. 

In the last five years the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary have seized or disrupted circa 11 metric tonnes of cocaine and cannabis in the Caribbean, worth £750m in the UK.

On board Argus are also Royal Marines from 47 Commando who operate fast boats to intercept any suspicious craft that might be involved in drug-running. The marines are also there to help land people and essential supplies ashore. 

It was an extremely valuable exercise to pull together all force elements in one location and work together to ensure that we are ready to deliver assistance in the event of a hurricane.

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