This week, as the RCIPS police helicopter returns to work, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Ship Argus will be setting sail.
During its two-week stay, RFA Argus has provided a solid base on the horizon for the Merlin and Wildcat helicopters to work from.
They have become a familiar sight on the horizon and the troops on board have taken part in disaster management exercises, tested their resources in the Botanical Park and practised their board and search operations with the Cayman Islands Coastguard. Sadly due to COVID-19 the ship capability chopper COVID-19 demonstrations have not been completed but the ship has provided a video of its facilities to help the local familiarisation process.
The Merlin Mark 4 helicopters are from 845 Naval Air Squadron and the Wildcat aircraft from 815 Naval Air Squadron, both based in Yeovilton. Together they form a Tailored Air Group (TAG) which stepped in to support the RCIPS helicopter X-RAY ONE.
They carried out familiarisation flights to identify possible landing spots for their disaster management plans but were on also on hand for a sizeable drug seizure at the beginning of their stint, provided aerial surveillance of a number of road traffic incidents and more recently lent support to the rescue of some kayakers.
The search and rescue operation happened on Thursday as they were returning to the ship from a previous job. Within minutes of receiving the distress call they were able to locate the missing people and direct marine units to the scene.
Petty Officer Air Crewman Lee Niall, said: “We were returning to the ship when the call came in but we were able to get there quickly and then direct the local units straight to the kayakers. Search and Rescue is something we can always assist with even when on other taskings. We can react fast, so we are always ready to help with rescues if needed.”
Meanwhile members of the crisis troop 24 Commando Royal Engineers troop on board participated in an exercise on Colliers Beach and have more recently been using their combat engineering skills to help with some maintenance work at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanical Park.
The work at the park was to clear an invasive species of Logwood from parts of the botanical gardens’ fence line to prevent the green iguana from entering the gardens.
All the members of the team are combat engineers but they also specialise in additional skills which would make them excellent support following a hurricane or similar natural disaster.
Sapper Kieran McMann said: “This was good practice for our chainsaw operators who might be needed to clear routes and landing sites, and we have quad bikes, generators and other equipment we can use to provide disaster relief.”
“In my team there are soldiers with different trades ranging from signaller to electrician, plumber and even bricklayers. Conditions were hard in the park and the troop worked long hours in the heat but they were glad of the chance to hone their skills.”
John Lawrus, General Manager of the Queen Elizabeth II Botanical Park, said: “These guys have put in an incredible amount of work clearing fence lines, helping remove the possibility for invasive species, such as the green iguanas, to make it back into the Botanic park, and generally providing an incredible asset to us here in the community.”
Meanwhile the Royal Marines aboard have been carrying out exercises with the Cayman Islands Coastguard to ensure they’re ready if required for counter-drugs trafficking and disaster relief operations.
The green beret marines are crucial to the operation to quickly land supplies, emergency aid and the crisis response troop.
His Excellency The Governor Mr Martyn Roper said: “I would like to thank the UK Ministry of Defence and in particular the Royal Navy for their strong support over the last couple of weeks providing cover for our Police helicopter. It is a signal of the UK’s commitment to the security of the Overseas Territories and a reassuring presence during hurricane season.
“It’s been a good opportunity to learn and understand the capabilities of the new ships and in particular how the helicopters would provide us with the support we might need in a post-hurricane scenario.
“COVID-19 has interfered with some of the usual visits and tours that would normally be run to help us with that learning process but we have put virtual meetings and videos to good use.”