Young volunteers try their best to use Royal Navy equipment to find flags during a demonstration of the HMS Medway’s humanitarian aid and disaster relief abilities. (Photo: HMS MEDWAY)

The HMS Medway’s four-day visit proved to be not only a valuable opportunity to coordinate with the Virgin Islands’ lead organisations for dealing with disaster management, but also gave the Royal Navy a chance to share how its equipment works during some family-friendly activities, according to Caribbean Task Force Commander Brian Trim.

Oct. 24, the Medway crew hosted a demonstration at Queen Elizabeth II Park to showcase its disaster relief training, like how responders use chainsaws to clear debris.

Mr. Trim said a flag decoding competition proved to be the most popular activity among the children, who got to use Navy binoculars to locate flags flown aboard the Medway and decode the clues. Mr. Trim, who is serving as the commander for six months, said he hoped visitors both enjoyed the glimpse into life aboard the Medway and walked away with a reassurance that military assistance is never too far away in an emergency.

“I know a number of people who said to me during our visit how important just the sight of people in uniform and ships and helicopters was in 2017, when people arrived to help,” he said of the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

Hurricane season

But the ship isn’t just for show. The Medway, a river-class offshore patrol vessel, is stationed in the Caribbean until about 2025, flying crew in and out as needed so the ship can always be ready for action on the tail end of the hurricane season.

The Medway and the RFA Wave Knight comprise the Caribbean Task Force, which is dedicated to responding to emergencies and counteracting trafficking operations.

The Wave Knight is a fast tanker capable of carrying a helicopter and providing up to 2,000 disaster relief packages, 150 tonnes of fresh food, and up to 380,000 litres of fresh water.

Because the Medway is permanently located in the region, Mr. Trim said the ship can reach affected countries and territories right on the heels of a storm, as soon as it’s safe to operate boats and helicopters in the area.

The HMS Medway, which paid a visit to the Virgin Islands this week, is stationed in the Caribbean until 2025 to provide regional disaster relief. (Photo: HM GOVERNOR’s OFFICE IN THE BVI)
Tabletop exercise

The task force spent Oct. 25 on a tabletop exercise with partners including the Department of Disaster Management, the BVI Red Cross, the Royal VI Police Force, the VI Fire and Rescue Service, Her Majesty’s Customs, the BVI Airports Authority, utility providers, and more.

DDM acting Director Jasen Penn said he appreciated the regional expertise the HMS Medway team brought to the exercise.

“Having all the partners together helped to reinforce national emergency plans,” he said in a press release. “While we all have different areas of focus, we share priorities, which are to protect lives and property and restore essential services as efficiently as possible in case of a serious hazard impact in the BVI.”

Mr. Trim added that the task force members were able to explain what equipment and skills they have to offer, while community members shared their knowledge of what was needed after hurricanes Irma and Maria, and what their organisations could contribute to any future relief efforts.

“It really was time well spent, because it helped me and helped my team to understand the lived experience here in the Virgin Islands,” Mr. Trim said. “We can now take our bits of expertise and theirs and bring them together. We feel like we’ve now got a much better understanding and can make better plans.”

While his team was responding to a devastating earthquake that hit Haiti last August, Mr. Trim said he observed how well-established personal relationships with local key players are imperative in enabling responders to quickly get to work on high-priority areas. He also shared his appreciation for the hospitality shown by the VI’s leaders and community members during the visit here.