UK Naval ship RFA Argus and its aviation team are ending their tour in Cayman waters.
Captain Philip Dennis, Commander of the UK Task Group in the Caribbean, told the Cayman Compass Friday, that the ship is now sailing to the Turks and Caicos Islands, having successfully completed its tour in local waters.
The team, he said via email, will “continue maritime security operations with the [Turks and Caicos Islands] Police Service and the US Coast Guard. We wish to thank the Cayman Islands for all their support to date.”
On Friday, Governor Martyn Roper, Governor’s Office Policy Officer Simone Eade and the Compass were taken on a 45-minute flyover of Grand Cayman on board the RFA Argus’s Wildcat helicopter.
The helicopter is one of two of the ship’s aircraft that have been providing helicopter coverage over Cayman in the absence of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service helicopters, both of which are in the US undergoing maintenance work at the Airbus facility.
The second helicopter on duty in Cayman from RFA Argus is a Merlin chopper.
Due to COVID-19 protocols and the need to keep the vessel’s crews virus-free, there was very little interaction locally. A hurricane exercise conducted by the ship’s crews were also scaled back to avoid any chance of the virus reaching the vessel.
On Friday’s flight, everyone on board was required to wear face masks and there was limited contact and seating on the helicopter.
Roper, in an interview with the Compass Friday, said he was grateful for the helicopter assistance from the RFA Argus team.
“It’s been very good to have them here for, I think, it’s almost two weeks now. As everyone knows, they’ve been providing cover principally for the helicopters being off island for maintenance and that’s been really helpful because they’ve supported directly on counter-narcotics operations, on protecting our borders, and they would have been there for any medevacs, had that been needed,” he said.
RCIPS Air Operations Unit Commander Steve Fitzgerald welcomed the additional support from the flight team members, saying they went beyond expectations.
“We’re really grateful that Argus and the Ministry of Defence responded in the way that they have done, to be here for two weeks, providing us with full cover for critical incidents and border security. It has been quite incredible, and we certainly appreciate what they’ve done,” he said.
The helicopter teams, he said, provided police with flights daily.
“They’ve responded to a number of incidents that we have given them and they have responded enthusiastically to everything that has been asked of them, and they volunteered more than we would ever expected. It’s also enabled them to get ready for the hurricane season properly with the flight teams,” he said.
“The flight teams have done all their training,” he added.
Between the Merlin and Wildcat helicopters, the Argus Tailored Air Group (TAG) has flown in excess of 55 hours in support of the RCIPS.
This was conducted across 21 sorties by day and night. Four of those were carried out with short notice, Royal Navy Lieutenant Joseph Howell said.
A sortie is any time the helicopter goes out on a flight with a specific task or mission.
“We hope that the RCIPS have benefitted from the use of aircraft such as the Wildcat helicopter, and also the three Merlin helicopters that make up the Tailored Air Group that can offer support to the Cayman islands and the wider Caribbean region. We have enjoyed the challenge of flying in support of maritime security activities, and I know it has helped consolidate the relationships between the UK military and the Cayman Islands authorities and security organisations,” Dennis said.
Roper pointed out that the ship, as well as HMS Medway, has been working with Cayman on hurricane preparedness.
“I know that’s been extremely valuable. And, of course, if we are hit by a hurricane, we do know the capability, capacity that these ships now have from the beach landing exercise that was done last week as well,” the governor said.
Roper said he was pleased for the opportunity to go up on one of the helicopters so he could experience first hand exactly what it could do.
He described the helicopter as “real state-of-the-art equipment that can assist us in a time of crisis”.
Wildcat pilot Lieutenant Jim Carver took the governor, Eade and the Compass out for the flyover.
He said it has been a pleasure to work closely with the RCIPS over the past couple of weeks.
“We’ve benefitted from some excellent counter-narcotics training with the Marine Unit, flown patrols on behalf of the Air Operations Unit, and been able to support the effort against illegal trafficking to the islands through our Maritime Surveillance Operations,” he said via email.
The TAG was also instrumental last week in the interception of a boat off Cayman, which led to the seizure of more than 750 pounds of ganja and the arrest of two men.
Last week, Premier Alden McLaughlin commended the TAG team on their work when he addressed the media at the Argus hurricane exercise at Collier’s Beach.
Carver said the Argus flight team also also conducted “vital visits to landing sites throughout the islands, should they be needed during hurricane season”.
“Finally, we were very glad to be able to fly His Excellency to round off a successful visit to the Cayman Islands,” he said.