Mission complete: Royal Marines fly home after month-long Caribbean clear-up operation

After a month-long clear-up operation in the Caribbean, Royal Marines of 40 Commando have returned home with the “green shoots…returning” to the British Virgin Islands.

It’s mission complete for the Norton-manor based Lead Commando Group, dispatched with their Army commando engineer comrades as the spearhead of a major long-distance relief effort by the UK armed forces to help Britons hit by three hurricanes in a fortnight – Irma, José and Maria.

Schools, hospitals and clinics, police stations, supermarkets and stores, jails, roads and highways, individual homes – and ordinary lives – are all in a better position than they were in the immediate aftermath of the storms.

After providing security by patrolling rather lawless streets in the wake of Irma – prisoners escaped from the main jail and looting was commonplace – and distributing basic aid, chiefly food and fresh waters, commando teams got stuck into more long-term projects: restoring power stations and water treatment plants, clearing roads, putting roofs back on homes and school buildings, repairing airport fencing, helping to get phone and power lines back in order, and running health clinics.

As well as making the central prison on Tortola secure, the marines supported the successful transfer of 21 high-risk inmates to stronger facilities on St Lucia while longer-term rebuilding is carried out on the penitentiary, salvaged around two thirds of the electricity pylons and passed on their engineering skills to locals, many of whom rely on generators to provide power.

I give my heartfelt thanks to the military for their assistance

Gus Jaspert, Governor of British Virgin Islands

Royal Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen were employed throughout British Overseas Territories in the Caribbean – Turks and Caicos Islands, Anguilla, Dominica but especially the British Virgin Islands – on Operation Ruman, with flagship HMS Ocean making an Atlantic dash to deliver extra aid, manpower and lifting strength with her nine Fleet Air Arm/RAF helicopters.

During her time attached to the Caribbean operation, Ocean steamed over 11,000 miles, conducted 253 hours of flying including 81 sorties lifting aid and material, as well as transferring 1,081 people by air around the various islands.

Her four landing craft from 9 Assault Squadron Royal Marines were launched/recovered nearly 200 times, putting 600 people and stores ashore in 17 isolated locations.

Once ashore, teams the Mighty O delivered 8,300 man hours – the equivalent of 49 weeks’ work – of engineering and logistical support and sheer brute force.

The ship also evacuated 39 vulnerable British nationals from Dominica, including one pensioner who was very seriously ill and received life-saving treatment onboard.

In all the collective UK Forces effort delivered more than 178 tonnes of DFID aid, including 3,000 shelter kits. And where people were unable to erect these themselves, the military has built the roofs for people.

All those efforts were praised by the BVI’s Premier Orlando Smith, Governor Gus Jaspert and Police Commissioner Michael Matthews in a farewell press conference before the green berets departed Terrance B Lettsome Airport – which they had helped to re-open just 24 hours before .

“Although he effects are still being felt there have been noticeable improvements, the green shoots are returning,”

“I give my heartfelt thanks to the military for their assistance. The UK military has played an important role...but it is right that the military now move on as we start normalisation.”

One of the key parts of that ‘normalisation’ is the end of the month-long state of emergency enforced across the British Virgin Islands.

40 Commando’s Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Paul Maynard said his men and women returned home struck deeply impressed by islanders’ response to the natural disaster. “Their resilience, warmth and stoicism has been nothing but humbling,” he told the premier and governor.

Not all of 40 Commando are coming home; some of the marines have joined HMS Ocean as part of her Special Purpose Task Group to take part in amphibious exercises when she takes over from HMS Diamond as flagship of a NATO task force – the Mighty O’s original mission before she was diverted to the Caribbean.

And RFA Mounts Bay, first on the scene after Irma to offer assistance with her specialist humanitarian aid team aboard, remains in the vicinity for the rest of the hurricane season.