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Royal Navy warship delivers aid to Pacific islands hit by double cyclones

Royal Navy warship delivers aid to Pacific islands hit by double cyclones
25 April 2023
Crew of a Royal Navy patrol ship helped inhabitants of a remote Pacific island restore regular water supplies in the wake of two devastating tropical cyclones.

HMS Spey delivered three ten-tonne water tanks – among other aid and equipment – to the people of Tanna, one 80 islands in the Republic of Vanuatu which was battered by storms Judy and Kevin.

The cyclones swept over the islands within days of each other at the end of February and beginning of March, with winds touching 120mph at times.

The international community – Australia especially – provided widespread initial aid to restore basic services and assist islanders.

Six weeks later, people are still rebuilding their lives. The installation of three new, large-capacity tanks will help to store and provide clean water to inhabitants, alongside stores and equipment to help repair the island’s infrastructure, all safely delivered by Spey.

The island is located near the southern end of the chain which makes up the republic and proved to be among the most interesting the Portsmouth-based warship has visited on her five-year mission to the Indo-Pacific in company with her sister ship HMS Tamar.

Tanna is the size of Tyne and Wear but home to fewer than 30,000 people who live a staunchly-traditional lifestyle: with naked torsos, men wear nambas (penis sheaths), women grass skirts, while tribes in the south of the island worshipped the Duke of Edinburgh and, since his death, Prince/King Charles as a god.

The sailors received a traditional ceremonial welcome from hundreds of residents from across the island, which included singing and dancing, and the presentation of traditional accessories such as woven bags and grass skirts and the drinking of kava, a drink made from the roots of the kava plant and offered during ceremonial occasions.

Spey’s Commanding Officer Commander Michael Proudman presented the island’s chiefs with a White Ensign as a thank-you.

“To receive such a welcome was a huge honour for us and an unforgettable experience. I know I speak for all of Team Spey in thanking our hosts for the incredible welcome ceremony – we could not be more humbled and grateful for allowing us to visit your beautiful country, and for embracing us so warmly with your culture and traditions,” he said.

Sailors took the opportunity to visit Mount Yasur, a 1,184ft volcano with a near-circular crater over 1,300ft wide, which has been erupting almost continuously for 800 years, earning it the nickname ‘Lighthouse of the Pacific’. It was Mount Yasur’s glow that first attracted the attention of Captain James Cook in 1774 from HMS Resolution, the namesake of Tanna’s Port Resolution.

“You see things like this on the TV or in a film and as much as you know they’re real, you never really expect to have the opportunity to see one in real life, never mind getting to reach the crater,” said Petty Officer Hannah Chenery.

“Being able to have these experiences is one of the main reasons I joined the Navy – definitely one more item ticked off the bucket list.”

Spey is the first Royal Navy vessel to visit the islands since they gained independence from joint UK-French rule in 1980 – although she did sail through the territorial waters earlier in her patrol.

The ship also called in at the archipelago’s capital Port Vila, where she hosted a reception for local dignitaries, including Vanuatu’s Prime Minister, Ishmael Kalsakau, and Foreign Minister, Jotham Napat, as well as representatives from across the Pacific and beyond.

British High Commissioner Nicolette Brent said the timing of Spey’s visit to the islands “could not have been better”.

She continued: “HMS Spey provided a visible platform to reinforce our messaging that we are committed to our partnership with Vanuatu – especially in areas such as disaster response and recovery, climate change and defence and security.”

Mr Napat said the Royal Navy’s visit was “an important symbol of Vanuatu/UK partnership as our Government leads the national recovery effort. We hope that this visit is just the start of a regular programme of visits by our British friends.”

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