The crew of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) ship Mounts Bay began its deployment in the Caribbean just in time for the hurricane season last July, and since being pressed into action during one of the most active hurricane seasons in recent years, they’re reporting good progress in recovery efforts thus far.
Speaking to Barbados TODAY while the ship was anchored just off the island on a three-day visit, Captain David Buck said he believed that in the next 18 months to two years, the hurricane-ravaged British Virgin Islands and Anguilla would be back on their feet.
“Last month, we visited the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla, still a scene of much devastation, and there is lots of recovery work going on there. We were pleased to see the progress being made there,” he said.
Captain Buck noted that follow-up was an important element of the work the Royal Fleet Auxiliary did, and last year’s hurricanes showed there will always be better ways to do things.
“We provide feedback on what was experienced, and it is up to higher authorities in the UK working with the disaster relief authorities here in the region to improve things where necessary so we can be better prepared the next time,” he said.
The ship’s operations are scaled down somewhat, but Buck said it is still able to dispatch a large number of personnel on short notice to deal with any issue that may arise in the region.
Mounts Bay is equipped with trucks, tractors and small boats, along with a helicopter and crew from the Fleet Air Arm. All of that equipment was deployed during the relief efforts for countries affected by Category 5 hurricanes Irma and Maria last September. There was also a team of Commandos from the British Army who went into the affected islands and worked alongside locals to provide shelter and restore utilities.
Operations Officer Jonathan Church, explained: “The team of commandos brought ashore comes in three different scales – light, medium and heavy. The light team carries small hand tools and can do debris clearance, shelter construction and search and rescue operations. The medium duty teams work on restoring power, sanitation, repairing vehicles and doing small repairs on domestic utilities; while the heavy duty team carries power tools and generators, and can set up local lighting on a small scale and carry out major road clearance operations.”
While there is no hospital on board, the ship’s has facilities to treat 200 adults and 20 children, and there is a medical team which can carry out primary health care operations and, if necessary, transport people to hospitals on the mainland.
The ship also has a plant on board which can produce 120 tons of water per day, an operation carried out overnight after the ship has carried out its daytime activities.
Because of its size and structure, it is not a rapid response ship, but can cover up to 350 miles per day sailing between the Leeward and Windward Islands, and can reach an island within 12 to 24 hours after a system has passed.
The RFA Mounts Bay is spending three days in Barbados, and its next stop will be Colombia, where it will assist the authorities in that country with drug interdiction efforts.
The Royal Fleet Auxiliary is a civilian department under the UK’s Ministry of Defence, and has been in operation since 1905, offering support to the Royal Navy throughout the world. In the Caribbean, its primary role is to assist British overseas territories and Commonwealth countries in times of natural disasters as well as on drug interdiction missions.