Military trucks rolled onto the white sands of Seven Mile Beach on Friday as police and Royal Navy helicopters hovered overhead in a show of strength from the British disaster response team currently operating in the Caribbean.
Swimmers and sunbathers looked on as the 16,000-ton RFA Mounts Bay moored off the beach, unloading trucks and heavy equipment along with a crew of British Navy officers.
Grand Cayman was the first stop for RFA Mounts Bay during the dock landing ship’s deployment in the Caribbean.
Captain Christopher Clarke said the crew sought to fulfill a four-tiered mission in the region.
“The first and foremost is security reassurance to U.K. Overseas Territories and the wider region. We’re also ready for contingent disaster relief in the case of tropical cyclones or if anything worse happens. We get involved in counter-narcotic operations over the year,” Capt. Clarke said during a reception aboard the ship Thursday evening.
“The final thing, which people forget, is we’re ready for contingent tasking around the world. If any conflict happens, we’re on five days notice to react to that event.”
The training exercise on Friday and Saturday was a simulation of how the British armed forces could respond after a major hurricane.
Lieutenant Oliver Fletcher of the Royal Engineers said Seven Mile Beach would be a realistic access point for emergency crews in the event of a catastrophe that impacted the port in George Town.
He said the beach exercise demonstrated that RFA Mounts Bay, which is on duty in the Caribbean Sea, could land heavy equipment and skilled personnel on Grand Cayman in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster.
“For humanitarian and disaster relief operations, we need to be able to get all our kit and equipment from sea to shore efficiently,” he said.
“With the capability that our engineers have, we can provide basic construction support. I’ve got joiners, electricians, plumbers and plant operators, so we can fix storm-damaged buildings, clear rubble and debris in the aftermath of a hurricane.”
Hazard Management Cayman Islands Director McCleary Frederick said the weekend’s exercises were a testament to the progress that has been made since Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
“[After Ivan], we didn’t know what [the U.K.] were capable of doing and they didn’t know what we needed or what resources we had. Whereas now, they have a better understanding of our capabilities and we have a better understanding of their capabilities,” Mr. McCleary said. The Navy ship is on patrol throughout the Caribbean region providing support to Britain’s overseas territories and assisting drug interdiction efforts in the region.
Lieutenant Fletcher said, depending on where the ship is situated, it is equipped to respond to an order for assistance from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office within 12 to 48 hours.
Lieutenant Colonel Anton Gash, the British Defence Attaché in the Caribbean, said the Cayman Islands was the ship’s first port of call in the region.
“Pound for pound, she is probably the most capable disaster response vessel anywhere. If you were designing a ship to do this task in the Caribbean, you would come up with something that looks almost exactly like her,” he said of the RFA Mounts Bay.
“This is a package we have put together from different elements; The Royal Navy with our helicopter, Royal Fleet Auxiliary with the ship itself, the Royal Logistic Corps for the ability to come ashore on the beach and the Royal Engineers for the ability to then go inland and carry out the disaster response. It is a bespoke package.”
He said Friday’s exercise went “like clockwork.”
The crew and vehicles were guided to shore on a mobile landing dock before setting up a command center on Governors Beach.
A team of Royal Engineers then traveled to HMP Northward to assist with a two-day community project, clearing vegetation around the perimeter of the prison in an effort to make it more difficult for people to smuggle drugs into the prison.