The Gibraltar Government has donated 10 all-terrain vehicles to assist humanitarian relief operations in the British Overseas Territories in the Caribbean hit by Hurricane Irma.
HMS Ocean pulled alongside the South Mole yesterday morning triggering operations of loading and unloading getting her ready for deployment to the Caribbean.
Once in the area she will join Royal Fleet Auxiliary Mounts Bay, providing logistical and medical support.
The Gibraltar Government has also donated £26,500 worth of building materials on behalf of Rock residents.
“When push comes to shove and the people of Gibraltar have to look at others around the world who need assistance, I think Gibraltar does very well in stepping up to the plate very quickly to ensure that the little bit of assistance we can provide, we do as soon as we are able to,” said the Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo.
“We are acutely aware of the dangers facing our British brethren in the Overseas Territories in the Caribbean.”
“The Government of Gibraltar has been working hard to ensure that any available building materials in the two principal agencies within the Government that have this material – the housing works agency and the Gibraltar joinery and building services – is going to be made available to HMS Ocean to take across the Atlantic, so that the rebuilding can continue with that additional material.”
In addition, “£200,000 worth of 4X4 all-terrain vehicles is going to be donated on behalf of the Government and people of Gibraltar for this effort.”
Mr Picardo said the operation demonstrated the strategic value of Gibraltar’s capability as a UK forward mounting base, “…in terms of being here for the Royal Navy to enable these sorts of operations at short notice, whether it is the use of the airstrip or the use of the naval facilities.”
Commodore Mike Walliker, the Commander of British Forces Gibraltar, explained the roles of the various organisations involved in getting HMS Ocean ready for her departure to the Caribbean.
Since finding out that HMS Ocean was on her way to Gibraltar, the Commodore and team have spent their time planning “…to make sure that the fleet flagship arrived this morning with over 700 people on-board and with a tailored air group and vehicles equipped for operations in the Mediterranean could be turned around and reconfigured.”
“Changing out some of the people taking off some of the equipment, substituting some of the equipment and getting everything fit so the ship can sail as soon as possible.”
He said that he had been in contact with all three of the armed forces throughout the planning stage to ensure the equipment, stores and people could arrive on time.
At RAF Gibraltar British Forces Gibraltar prepared to provide support to HMS Ocean.
In addition, the Air Traffic Controllers and assistants of NATS Gibraltar worked out of usual opening hours to assist in the arrival of four Chinook helicopters from RAF Odiham, a Merlin helicopter in from RNAS Yeovilton and A400Ms.
“This is what we do. The airfield and all its team down at Royal Air Force Gibraltar is here to provide a forward mounting base for events and situations such as this,” said RAF Station Commander Wing Commander Liz Hutchison.
“The team stepped straight up to the play, happy and very pleased to be able to fulfil that role and immensely proud that we are in our own way here in Gibraltar supporting the UK’s mission.”
“Between ourselves at the airfield and air traffic control it is very much a joint effort, with everybody coming together to make sure we are there to receive those aircraft when we need to.”
She added that on Sunday evening there was an “amazing moment”, when the military dispersals were full with an A400, Merlin and Chinook helicopters and she looked across the other side and the civil dispersal had commercial airline planes and a business jet.
“The airfield was as full as it could be,” she said.
The Governor, Lieutenant General Edward Davis, paid tribute to Gibraltar’s response to the UK operation and to the difficult circumstances faced by Britons in the Overseas Territories.
“I would like to add on behalf of the Foreign Commonwealth Office with myself as Governor a tribute to yourself [the Chief Minister], your Government and the people of Gibraltar for the speed and scale of your response to your fellow Overseas Territories citizens in their time of need. It is as impressive and as generous as ever, so thank you very much,” Lt Gen Davis said.
He also praised the “…effort of the UK Government departments that have come together with your Government and that are why we have been so efficient and effecting in turning around HMS Ocean from her previous task.”
He also reiterated Mr Picardo’s words about Gibraltar’s strategic location.
Captain Robert Pedre, who has been the captain of HMS Ocean for over a year, was involved in the non-combat evacuation of Libya in 2011 when HMS Cumberland rescued 454 people, and said that “whilst not exactly the same as delivering humanitarian aid, there are a lot of parallels.”
“This is a mission we train for routinely and therefore having seeing the horrific images coming on the media and on the internet, we were determined and even more resolute in our determination to maximise support to the people of the Caribbean region in the British Overseas Territories,” he said.
HMS Ocean took on 200 pallets of Department for International Development (Dfid) stores, 40 pallets of MoD stores, a field surgical team, food provisions that are sufficient to feed over 1,000 people for two months.
The ship is capable of making 300 tonnes of potable water a day and it is able to generate eight megawatts of power, enough to supply 8,000 houses with electricity.
“We are a hugely versatile and capable platform, we are ready to maximise the amount of assistance we can provide in theatre,” said Captain Pedre.
When HMS Ocean departs Gibraltar she will carry on board “…700 personnel with includes engineering specialists, medical specialists, Royal Marines.”
“I have nine aircraft and I also have four landing craft and a huge array of multi-purpose vehicles, we are almost tailor made for this mission,” the Captain added.
HMS Ocean’s Chief of Medical Assistance, Tim Johnston, has on-board “a GP and a five strong medical team backed up by 20 first aiders who are highly trained by ourselves and on top of that we are embarking a forward surgical team so we can do what we would describe as damage control surgery on-board.”
He explained that from the briefs he has received so far they are more than likely going to be in at the tail end of the relief efforts and more of the recovery phase.
“That being said we know the hospitals are struggling at the moment to keep up with demand. So if in any way shape or form we can assist even as far as going out to the more remote areas that haven’t been touched,” he said.
CMA Johnston has taken on-board four modules of humanitarian disaster relief medical supplied, overall about six tonne, he said.
HMS Ocean will depart Gibraltar today, as soon as all the supplies are on board, they were working through the night because “what we are determined to do is to get into theatre as fast as possible,” said Captain Pedre.
The voyage to the Caribbean is expected to take two weeks.