Commandos test Caribbean storm response on ‘Treasure Island’

Commandos returned to a pirates’ haunt in the latest test of a Royal Navy task group’s readiness to respond to the Caribbean hurricane season.

Norman Island – thought to have inspired Robert Louis Stevenson's legendary Treasure Island – became the latest remote location for the impressive life-saving and supporting teams and kit aboard RFA Argus and HMS Medway.

Commandos, sailors and aviators picked the island – at the southern tip of the British Virgin Islands archipelago – for two days of intensive training to determine how the task group might help the British Overseas Territory should a tropical storm scythe through. 

The Virgin Islands were badly affected back in 2017 – though Norman Island was spared – and received widespread help from the British military under Operation Ruman.

Early forecasts point to the busiest hurricane season since 2005 – the most active Atlantic storm season in recorded history – which is why Argus and Medway need to be at the top of their game ready to deliver Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief.

The exercise began when a Wildcat helicopter from 815 Naval Air Squadron delivered a scouting party to one of the landing sites that had already been scoped out.

Simultaneously, members of the Crisis Response Troop from 24 Commando Royal Engineers were transferred to HMS Medway by sea boats from RFA Argus and from 47 Commando Royal Marines. This is to simulate the ability of both ships to coordinate and respond in different locations, with Medway acting as a ‘lily pad’ from which to deliver the troop of specialist engineers and her own emergency relief stores ashore.

Further helicopter flights saw troops landed ashore and a headquarters was set up to plan the next steps and liaise with the ships and aircraft as to the situation on the ground. 

 

This exercise and the two ships’ ongoing presence in the region is a strong signal of the UK’s support for BVI for which I am grateful.

Gus Jaspert, the Governor of the British Virgin Islands

The training continued into the next day, and a key aim was to facilitate the delivery of emergency relief stores to a number of sites around the island.  

The varied skillsets of the commandos mean they can work quickly to re-establish infrastructure once ashore, including helping with sanitation, clearing building work, plumbing and electricity. They can do this with local populations or in isolation.

RFA Second Officer Alec Feuillade was appointed as ‘Beach Master’ during the exercise and this role involves managing the landing areas for the sea boats. 

“As Beach Master, I can help liaise between the land and the ship to ensure we are delivering aid and engineering support where it is most needed. This helps the operation run more smoothly,” he said.

Gus Jaspert, the Governor of the British Virgin Islands, said: “I’m pleased to hear that the exercise was a success. Although we all hope the territory never needs to call on this support, it’s imperative to make sure we’re prepared for all eventualities, especially given the added risks around COVID-19.

“This exercise and the two ships’ ongoing presence in the region is a strong signal of the UK’s support for BVI for which I am grateful.”

Having successfully completed the HADR exercise, the ships have now both left the British Virgin Islands, destined to meet again in Barbados for a short logistics stop to replenish fresh food and fuel, before continuing their patrols in the Caribbean.