Teams from HMS Ocean have thrown themselves into the relief effort on their first day on the ground in the British Virgin Islands.
As soon as the helicopter carrier arrived off Tortola yesterday morning, sailors, soldiers and Royal Marines were landed to bolster the efforts of 40 Commando and 59 Commando Squadron Royal Engineers, who have been on the ground for the past fortnight.
With nine helicopters and four landing craft, and 60 tonnes of aid in her hangar – building material, heavy plant, humanitarian aid and medical supplies – Britain’s biggest operational warship can shift assistance to islanders up several gears.
A 96-strong team was landed initially, including six marine and weapon engineers under Lt Fergus Holland to assess the state of Tortola’s critical infrastructure, focusing on the incinerator, telecommunications and power plants.
“We not only have a wealth of experience and knowledge across different fields of engineering, but physically have the tools and equipment to really make a difference,” said Lt Holland, Ocean’s deputy weapon engineer officer.
“The ship’s company are really happy to be here, adding value. This is what we train for and it’s fantastic to be doing it for real.”
60 sailors and marines toiled in the Caribbean heat to clear wood, sheets of roofing and other debris dumped around Tortola first by Hurricane Irma, then by Hurricane Maria.
Islanders were treated to the unusual sight of an RAF Chinook carrying a Royal Marines BV All-Terrain Vehicle beneath it. The vehicle will serve as a mobile communications center.
In the coming days, HMS Ocean will deliver aid and equipment where it is needed across the island chain.
She is then due to continue to other territories affected by this month’s storms, as the Department for International Development (DFID) works with the governments of Britain’s overseas territories on a long-term plan to get the islands back on their feet.
“We bring tonnes of aid, significant air and surface lift capacity and hundreds of highly-skilled personnel including engineers, logisticians and medical professionals drawn from all three Services,” said HMS Ocean’s Commanding Officer Captain Robert Pedre.
“My ship‘s company and embarked forces are highly trained and we are ready to make a real difference.”