Skip loaders and other heavy equipment rolled off a navy ship and onto the sand of Governors Beach Friday morning as part of an annual hurricane exercise conducted by the British Royal Fleet Auxiliary.
The RFA Mounts Bay, which was parked off of Seven Mile Beach, is part of the United Kingdom’s rapid response force in times of natural disaster. The U.K. maintains a year-round presence in the Caribbean to provide support during such events. Mounts Bay provided help to the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and Turks and Caicos last year in the wake of hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Capt. Peter Selby said the ship carries equipment that allows it to help clear roads, re-establish infrastructure, such as electricity, as well as security until other support arrives. It carries a landing barge, up to 25 support boats and has a helicopter landing pad.
“We want to be here 12 hours after the hurricane and we’ll be here for 48 hours,” Mr. Selby said.
By that time, he said, it’s expected that his forces will have been able to clear the airport runway and provide access for other emergency operations.
Governor Anwar Choudhury was on hand to watch the equipment being unloaded on Governors Beach in his backyard. He said it is important to have the annual exercise.
“You can never be over prepared,” Mr. Choudhury said. “If we get hit by a category 5 (hurricane) or a storm surge or a tsunami, we’re going to need help and we need a plan. The British Navy is ready to provide that.”
Mr. Selby said the Mounts Bay has a contingency of 180 personnel on board and in an anticipated hit from a hurricane more crewmembers, such as medical personnel, can be added. The ship is equipped to handle up to 450 crewmembers and even more people in an emergency.
“If we wish to evacuate people, I can take 3,500 for a few hours,” Mr. Selby said. “They’d all be standing up.”
The ship will do a similar drill in July in Anguilla, Mr. Selby said. Before that, it will participate in a Caribbeanwide international military exercise. And while it is tasked with responding to natural disasters, the crew will not simply be sitting around waiting for a hurricane to strike.
“A lot of the time, we’ll be doing counter-narcotics work,” Mr. Selby said.
The Mounts Bay, one of three ships of its class in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, is scheduled to remain in the Caribbean until 2020, when it will end a three-year tour here.
Once on land, the Mounts Bay sailors drove a convoy of heavy equipment over to Her Majesty’s Prison, Northward to assist in a clean-up effort around the prison grounds.
The crew used a bulldozer and other heavy equipment to clear bush land in the back of the prison property. The heavily forested area is often used as a hiding place for individuals who toss illegal drugs and other contraband over the security fence.
“They’re cleaning up the weeds to ensure there is no weed,” Governor Choudhury said.
The clean-up effort around the prison, which was also done in 2017, is also part of an effort to familiarize the sailors with the surroundings in case a natural disaster occurs.
“There will be police surrounding this prison, there will be U.K. forces surrounding this prison,” the governor said. “What we can’t be doing is making it up while we’re in disaster situations.”