United Kingdom (UK) ships RFA Argus and HMS Medway will be conducting a hurricane response exercise on Norman Island on Sunday 16 and Monday 17, August.
The Governor’s Office announced that the exercise will allow the UK Task Group to practice their response to any damage that a hurricane could cause, which includes delivering humanitarian aid and disaster relief by landing people and essential supplies ashore in order to support the people of the British Virgin Islands.
Deputy to the Governor, Mr. David D Archer, Jr. said due to the pandemic, this year’s hurricane season presents an unprecedented challenge and preparation is more important than ever.
Mr. Archer, Jr. said, “This exercise will ensure that if the Territory requires extra help after a storm, the crew on board RFA Argus and HMS Medway can effectively respond in a way that protects public health and meets our greatest needs. As always, the safety and security of the people of the British Virgin Islands is top priority.”
Royal Navy Commander Kate Muir, Head of the UK Task Group, said, “We are well positioned and prepared to offer support to BVI in the aftermath of a hurricane, if it is needed. As with any activity, we become more effective each time we practice, which is why I am grateful to the Governor and the Premier to have this chance to exercise on Norman Island.”
The two ships will carry emergency aid from the UK’s Department for International Development. This includes food, water, sanitation products and medical supplies, along with equipment that can help clear and repair some of the damage.
The ships will enter Territorial waters on Thursday, August 13 and anyone going ashore in the exercise will be tested for COVID-19 by the Task Force’s medical team, and their samples will be flown via helicopter to Tortola for testing on Thursday. Only once the BVI Health Service Authority has confirmed that all tests are negative for COVID-19 will the team be able to depart the ship.
Strict safety measures are in place for the exercise and the crew has been working closely with the Governor’s Office, the Premier’s Office and the Ministry of Health to ensure full compliance with the Territory’s COVID-19 measures.
During the exercise on Norman Island, the team will be located away from the Bight and areas likely to have visitors and will maintain a strict isolation on ship and follow social distancing and hygiene practices while on board. The team’s landing on Norman Island will have been isolated at sea for 12 days. On return to ship, they will conduct a clean down process called Op Dry Out to cleanse each individual, and they will then be monitored for any symptoms in the days following the exercise.
This exercise is expected to build on the preparatory work conducted earlier this year during the helicopter flyovers on April 17, where the team surveyed the islands’ topography and identified how to deliver relief to the most remote communities. These ongoing exercises are also a strong signal of the UK’s commitment to supporting the British Virgin Islands.
Response exercises such as these are expected to support the extensive preparations already in place in the Territory. Some of these include the creation of a new satellite Emergency Operations Centre in East End Long Look; installation of new sirens throughout the Territory; publication of new COVID-19 hurricane guidance for the public; preparedness sessions for community groups and the public; and training for shelter managers.
Notes to Editors
- RFA Argus has been stationed in the Caribbean since April to provide additional resilience to Caribbean Overseas Territories – both in their response to COVID-19 and for Atlantic Hurricane Season.
- RFA Argus carries aid from the UK’s Department of International Development, including water, ration packs, medical equipment and materials to repair and clear damage caused by a hurricane.
- The teams on RFA Argus and HMS Medway maintain a strict isolation on ship and follow social distancing and hygiene practices whilst on board. The team landing on Norman Island will have been isolated at sea for 12 days.
- Similar exercises have been conducted on the Turks and Caicos Islands, Montserrat, and the Cayman Islands also under strict safety measures and in close collaboration with the Government.
- The UK’s HMS Medway has been stationed in the region since January 2020 as the Royal Navy patrol ship. HMS Medway will play a supportive role during the exercise and her crew will not disembark.
- To provide the Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief (HADR), a Crisis Response Troop from 24 Commando Royal Engineers is trained to land ashore in adverse conditions to use their skillsets and offer engineering support. Using the four helicopters from the Task Group’s Tailored Air Group, and fast sea boats from 47 Commando Royal Marines, the engineers can be moved from both RFA Argus and HMS Medway. This allows flexibility, and for them to get to different locations quickly in order to begin work in the worst-hit areas or where the population most need support.