RFA Tideforce underway at sunset

A Royal Navy ship has been helping suppress gang-related violence in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker Tideforce, with her embarked Wildcat helicopter from 815 Naval Air Squadron, were on operations supporting aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in the North Atlantic when they were diverted to support a request from the Governor of the British Overseas Territory.

A violent upsurge in gang-related murders fueled by drugs, weapons and turf-wars had created an unprecedented security situation.

Tideforce, with her specialist airborne capability, provided UK reassurance and commitment to the people of the Turks and Caicos through patrol, surveillance and reporting operations.

Lieutenant Commander Phil Barron, the ship’s Flight Commander, said: “The Wildcat helicopter is able to use its array of sensors to conduct persistent surveillance and reconnaissance of a predetermined area chosen by the local policing effort.

“Using the radar and electro optical camera it was also possible to find and track suspect vessels at sea and report their location for onward interception and boarding.

“Overland, using the thermal and optical cameras, it is possible to provide imagery of sensitive areas within the gang territories or hideouts and report any suspicious activity to the police. Captured data can also be used as evidence to assist in criminal prosecutions.”

These idyllic Caribbean islands therefore find themselves in the direct line of illegal gang, drugs, weapons, migrant and fishery exploitation activities.

Tideforce’s operations were carried out in support of the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force’s Marine Branch and the Governor – helping to protect their population and safeguard territorial waters from criminal challenges.

Captain Chris Clarke, Commanding Officer of RFA Tideforce, said: “This is the second time in a month that the RFA ship’s company and embarked Royal Navy flight have supported the people and government of the Turks and Caicos Islands – firstly following the Category 3 Hurricane Fiona, and now in the important work to suppress the shocking level of gang-related violence facilitated by porous maritime borders.

“Through the combined efforts of everyone involved, all working in unison to support the Police Force: arrests, weapon and drug seizures have been made.”

The Governor, Nigel Dakin, said: “The surveillance capability provided by Tideforce’s helicopter provided perfect top-cover to muscular policing activity conducted by the Tactical Firearm’s Unit of the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force, reinforced by similar specialist officers from the Bahamas.

“The same helicopter was invaluable in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona.

“I was able to thank the Captain and crew personally – we remain extremely grateful here, to those who serve away from their families, as they protect ours.

“I’m pleased to say that UK Police and the UK’s National Crime Agency will be part of ongoing support to the islands, including deployments of firearms trainers, forensics experts and detectives.”

Tideforce will remain on notice in the Caribbean while she works with Royal Navy partners in the US Navy and Military Sealift Command. Tideforce completes her deployment and returns to the UK in December.