Ship heads today to Cayman Brac for further preparations
Governor Duncan Taylor and a small entourage of officials and military officers flew over Grand Cayman on Monday in a mock disaster reconnaissance flight as part of emergency preparedness coordination efforts begun after the arrival last week of a naval supply ship.
Since anchoring Friday in the waters near George Town Harbour, the crew of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker Wave Ruler has been meeting with government officials and representatives of key industries to assess local capabilities and ensure communication and disaster relief plans are in place for the upcoming hurricane season.
In recent days, RFA personnel — who in the case of Wave Ruler are tasked with providing emergency assistance to British Overseas Territories in the Caribbean — have called on government leaders and toured local facilities, including Cayman Islands General Hospital, the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service and the regional Red Cross supply distribution centre to get a feel for Grand Cayman’s infrastructure.
Wave Ruler’s helicopter flight team also had been scheduled for meetings Friday with their counterparts at RCIPS, but both the ship’s helicopter and the land-based police unit were drawn into service following a 37-feet-long boat named Miss Janice being reported missing and overdue after sailing last week from Grand Cayman to Honduras. Searches for the boat and its six passengers have been unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, Monday’s practice scouting flight over the island in Wave Ruler’s helicopter, undertaken in simulated post-disaster conditions, was the final itinerary item during the 31,500-tonne tanker’s four-day stay in Grand Cayman. Wave Ruler was scheduled to sail for Cayman Brac on Tuesday, where its crew would undergo similar emergency planning initiatives and infrastructure assessments with local officials before sailing for Belize on Wednesday.
“It’s quite a standard programme for these sorts of visits,” said Steve Moore, head of the governor’s office. “Wave Ruler is going to look after our interests in the Cayman Islands in terms of response to hurricanes throughout the season. They’ve come here as the ship of the region tends to do at the beginning of the hurricane season to familiarize themselves with the Island and the infrastructure and the people here. The skills and the preparations we have in place and what they might need to face in the event of having to respond.”
Hurricane season predictions
The US National Hurricane Center is predicting six major hurricanes during the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, out of an expected 12 to 18 named storms. Six to 10 of those could become hurricanes, while the rest would be tropical storms, according to forecasters.
Warm ocean temperatures in the Atlantic and Caribbean, combined with lingering effects of the La Nina ocean currents in the Pacific and natural climate patterns spanning several decades suggest conditions are ripe for heightened hurricane activity, said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center.
The 1920s to the 1960s had increased hurricane activity, while the 1970s to the 1990s were relatively quiet. At the moment, the pattern finds itself in the middle of a period of high activity, according to NOAA analysts.
“In addition to multiple climate factors, seasonal climate models also indicate an above-normal season is likely, and even suggest we could see activity comparable to some of the active seasons since 1995,” Mr. Bell said.
The response ship
Commissioned in 2003 in the United Kingdom, Wave Ruler has served all over the world in its capacity as a fast fleet tanker designed to supply Royal Navy vessels with fuel, food and ammunition. But for much of its career at sea, the ship has been deployed in the Caribbean to see to the emergency needs of British Overseas Territories and assist in regional drug-trafficking interdiction.
In 2006, Wave Ruler carried out three major cocaine seizures, including capturing nearly six tonnes of narcotics during two separate incidents that November.
Yet its primary responsibility in the region remains its role in offering disaster relief in the wake of hurricanes. In 2008, Wave Ruler distributed food, water and first aid supplies in the aftermath of hurricanes Gustav and Ike, as well as provided support in restoring vital infrastructure including the airport in Grand Turk when Ike caused an estimated $500 million in damage in Turks and Caicos. Last year, Wave Ruler distributed hundreds of tonnes of fresh water as well as 32,000 water purification tablets in St. Lucia after Hurricane Tomas barrelled through in November.
“We’ve got lots of experience in disaster relief,” said Captain Stephen Norris, commanding officer of Wave Ruler. “We’ve got lots of electrical expertise on here, both heavy electrical and light electrical. We’ve got a lot of engineering expertise. We’ve just got lots of manpower to do a lot of things, in the way of firefighting, assessment and damage repair. We can make 100 tonnes of fresh water a day. We can clear roads and get communications up and running again. All those sorts of things you need to do post hurricane. We’re here to come in behind the hurricane and provide as much support as we can.”