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HMS Spey delivers vaccines and patrols for illegal fishing in Pitcairn Islands

4 March 2022
Royal Navy sailors delivered Covid vaccines to the descendants of the Bounty when patrol ship HMS Spey visited the tiny Pitcairn Islands in the Pacific.

The islands – which are in the middle of the South Pacific and home to only around 50 people – are one of Britain’s most isolated Overseas Territories, famous as the last resting place of HMS Bounty and its mutineers.

The ship also carried enough Covid jabs to offer a booster to every eligible person on the islands, most of whom are double vaccinated.

The island – home to around 50 souls – is British soil and comes under the tutelage and support of the UK Government, including health provision. 

Surgeon Lieutenant Karolyn John, Spey’s dental officer, joined dental nurse Michaela Davies ashore, providing advice on oral care and taking a look at islanders’ teeth.

“Some of the islanders have not seen a dentist or undergone any dental care in about four years. As it’s a British Overseas Territory, we have a duty to the islands. For me it’s a unique opportunity, something I don’t think many dentists receive,” she said.

“We’ve had some really, really busy days – sent off in the sea boat first thing in the morning, back late at night to maximize our time with the islanders, providing treatment.”

HMS Spey, which is deployed to the Indo-Pacific for five years as part of Britain’s enduring presence in the region, is the first ship to visit since the start of the pandemic and the first Royal Navy vessel to call at the Pitcairn Islands since HMS Montrose on New Year’s Eve 2018. 

“The island is beautiful – nothing that I have ever seen before, unique terrain and the islands could not be friendlier, really hospitable,” said Surg Lt John.
With islanders relying strongly on the tourist trade for income, they hope Spey’s arrival will herald a resumption of cruise ships calling in.

Spey visited all four islands in the Pitcairn chain – Henderson, Ducie and Oneo, plus the eponymous main isle. Only Pitcairn itself is inhabited, with sailors meeting members of the community, giving tours of the vessel and briefing on its capabilities and mission.

The chain is surrounded by one of the world’s largest Marine Protected Areas, established by the UK in 2015, and home to a fantastic array of unique marine life, including pristine coral reefs not seen anywhere else on earth. 

The protective zone inhabited by a number of threatened species, including humpback whales, green turtles and seabirds such as the Henderson Petrel. But despite its incredible natural riches, scientific data is limited and rarely captured due to the territory’s remoteness.

HMS Spey conducted patrols in the waters around the islands to deter and defend against illegal fishing, in partnership with the UK’s satellite monitoring programme run by the Marine Management Organisation.

And she scooped up ocean water to send back to the UK for scientists to study.

“Scientists in the UK have really scant data about the ocean in this region – its salinity, temperature, water pressure and the like,” explained navigation officer Lieutenant Michael Royle. “They are keen to understand climate change in the area.”

The offshore patrol vessel was ideally suited to this task. She is one of the most environmentally friendly ships in the Royal Navy, thanks to a urea filter which reduces nitrogen oxide emissions from diesel generators by 90 per cent.

Alasdair Hamilton, Deputy Governor to the Pitcairn Islands, said: “Pitcairn’s origin as a UK overseas territory is intertwined with our naval history, and we are delighted the Royal Navy has visited our community in Pitcairn again and supported the roll-out of booster shots. This not only signals the UK’s commitment to the region, but is also an important milestone in Pitcairn beginning to open up to the rest of the world.

“The ship conducted patrols across the islands and the information gathered will be vital in protecting Pitcairn’s rich marine biodiversity and supporting global efforts to protect our precious oceans.”

HMS Spey is deployed to the Indo-Asia Pacific region, in company with her sister vessel, HMS Tamar. Both warships are at the start of an enduring period of operations in the area which will see them deployed from the Eastern shores of Africa to the West coast of the USA. 

The deployment of the two Royal Navy warships follows the deployment of the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, which recently spent several months working alongside the UK’s allies and partners in the region.

HMS Spey recently visited Tonga to deliver water and medical supplies after a volcanic eruption and tsunami.

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