Crew of the nation’s amphibious flagship proved themselves ‘masters of disaster’ after a wide-ranging weekend workout.
Assault ship HMS Albion joined forces with her Dutch counterpart HNLMS Karel Doorman to hone their skills in two key tasks: delivering humanitarian aid and support and a large-scale civilian evacuation.
Victorian forts outside Torpoint – Tregantle and Scraesdon – sprang back to life as they served as the processing hubs for scores of students from Somerset and Loughborough, who played the roles of victims, casualties and evacuees to give the training added scale and realism, before they could be ‘evacuated’ to safety via Jupiter Point,
And Bull Point on the Plymouth side of the harbor was ravaged by fire and flood, leaving collapsed buildings, trapped civilians, and basic amenities – electricity, fresh water and sewers, telephone lines – knocked out.
It was down to the Anglo-Dutch sailors and marines to restore order and then restore key services.
Exercises such as this ensure that our people are poised and prepared,” explained Commander Paul Thomson, Albion’s head of weapon engineering. “The exercise involved restoring fractured infrastructure, providing food and water, and restoring essential services such as sanitation and electricity at multiple sites in the Plymouth area.”
The waters of the Hamoaze and Lynher buzzed with boats as Albion and Karel Doorman landed vital aid and people with specialist skills ashore, along with equipment to support the relief effort.
Albion used her landing craft – designed to transport Royal Marines, armor, vehicles and equipment ashore – to instead deliver stores, food, water, and medical supplies.
And the assault ship’s cavernous vehicle deck – which usually houses those vehicles – was transformed into a mass reception area and her dining rooms and living areas were converted into temporary accommodation to house the evacuees.
As the intensity of the exercise increased, it culminated with an ‘entitled person’s evacuation’ – which calls for not merely transporting civilians to safety, but correctly processing people, providing assistance, medical aid where needed, often food and water.
It’s something the Royal Navy has considerable experience in carrying out: its ships evacuated civilians from Beirut and Libya in 2006 and 2011 respectively amid a worsening situation ashore, and Albion’s sister HMS Bulwark was at the forefront of operations in the Mediterranean in 2015 dealing with the flow of migrants from North Africa.
And events such as Covid or flooding in the UK in recent years have demonstrated that the military is as likely to be helping in Cumbria and along the Severn than in after a hurricane in the Caribbean or earthquake in the Pacific.
“You see the Royal Navy providing aid and support during the hurricane season in the Caribbean and in other parts of the world,” said 25-year-old Engineering Technician Lauren Bannister from Blackpool.
“To be able to take the engineering skills I use onboard and practise them ashore during a realistic and challenging exercise gives me the confidence that we can provide humanitarian support when required.”
The combined exercises on the Tamar and around Rame Peninsula brought the curtain down on an extensive three-week package of operational training for Albion ahead of a demanding 2022.
“My crew have worked hard with the Royal Navy’s Operational Sea Training team over the past three weeks getting ready for a challenging year ahead,” said Captain Simon Kelly, Albion’s Commanding Officer.
“Exercises such as this – which include support and liaison with the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office – ensure that we are ready to assist with humanitarian and disaster relief anywhere in the world.”
My crew have worked hard with the Royal Nav