Editor’s Note: The Royal Navy has announced that RFA Mounts Bay has now completed its 10-day humanitarian mission to the hurricane-hit Bahamas after distributing all of her stores, which included 3,000 ration packs, nearly 100 tonnes of water, over 900 emergency shelter kits, and 1,000 hygiene kits.
By Salvatore Mercogliano — The destruction that has been wrought upon the Bahamas, specifically Abaco Island, by Hurricane Dorian is hard for anyone to fathom without being there. Pictures show just utter destruction, while those on the ground have conveyed an equally grime picture with homelessness, people short of food, water, and medical supplies, and the odor of death lingering over the islands. The northern Bahamas witnessed a Category 5 hurricane park itself on the area and pound them for the better part of two days. With roads damaged, airports and seaports destroyed, the ability to get aid into the area is hard pressed.
Relief agencies, including the United States Coast Guard and Custom and Boarder Patrol, which have an agreement in place with the Bahamas to provide aid, are on scene. While they are providing immediate rescue and relief, what is needed is a larger logistical feat to begin the grim process of clean up and restoration of order on the island.
One of the first ships to respond to the crisis is the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Landing Ship Dock (LSD) Mounts Bay (L 3008). She was assigned to the Atlantic Patrol Tasking North to protect the interests of the United Kingdom in the area. Every hurricane season, the Royal Navy assigns one of the three Bay-class LSDs to the area. In 2017, Mounts Bay aided after Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the area. This year she embarks elements of 24 Royal Engineer Commandos and 17 Port and Maritime Royal Logistics Corps.
Mounts Bay participated in Exercise Tradewinds 19 with nine other nations – Dominican Republic, Haiti, Canada, the United States, Guyana, Jamaica, Mexico, Bermuda, and Barbados. The operation included anti-drug and terrorist exercises. Prior to this, in June, she sailed among the islands in the Caribbean and conducted reconnaissance of potential areas that could need support in case of hurricanes. With her embarked landing craft and helicopters, she was able to prepare for the operation that is currently unfolding in the Bahamas.
Under the command of master mariner Captain Robert Anders, Mounts Bay at 176 meters in length and capable of 18 knots is an impressive vessel of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Founded in 1905, to transport supplies for the Royal Navy, the merchant mariner-crewed ships have served alongside the fighting ships of the United Kingdom. From the U-Boat infested waters of the Atlantic, to fighting off Kamikazes in the Pacific, to dodging Argentinian bombs in the waters off San Carlos in the Falklands, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary is comparable to the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command (MSC).
Much like MSC, RFA ships are manned by civilian merchant mariners who typically are on board their ships for four-month tours, and then rotate ashore for three months leave. The Royal Navy provides personnel to man the weapons on board and other systems, such as the embarked Wildcat helicopters. Unlike MSC, the RFA is commanded by one of their own. The current commander of the RFA is Commodore Duncan Lamb, a 38-year veteran and a master mariner.
The ship arrived off Marsh Harbor on September 5 and immediately sent reconnaissance teams ashore. These initial sorties resulted in the Royal Navy crew of the Wildcat transporting out three children and a British citizen trapped beneath rubble in the town. Later, the helicopter evacuated other wounded to Nassau for medical treatment.
Once an area was located ashore, Mounts Bay utilized their landing craft and mexeflotes – portable barges similar to those used by the Allies at the D-Day landings in World War Two – to transport afloat shelter kits, ration packs, and water provided by the Department for International Development. This was followed by engineering equipment and vehicles to traverse the rugged terrain left in the wake of Hurricane Dorian.
Other missions included transporting diesel fuel for the Abaco hospital emergency generator, refueling US Coast Guard assets, and begin the process of clearing the port area for the arrival of more relief ships. The work being done by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, Royal Navy, and Royal Marine crews on board Mounts Bay is heroic and should be noted and followed by everyone. She will be joined by two Dutch Navy ships – HNLMS Johan de Witt and Snellius. Cruise ships of Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian are also delivering relief supplies as they return to the area. Noticeably absent from the scene are ships of the US Navy. Recent reports indicated that the Navy is on standby with the helicopter carrier USS Bataan and the hospital ship USNS Comfort slated to deploy. The latter is in the Caribbean on a pre-arranged deployment and would be ideal for medical support
RFA Mounts Bay and her crew are currently active on social media. The vessel is highlighting the situation ashore and providing updates on their operations to date. They can be followed on Twitter @RFAMountsBay, on Facebook @RoyalFleetAuxiliary and on the ships webpage at: https://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/our-organisation/the-fighting-arms/royal-fleet-auxiliary/landing-ships/rfa-mounts-bay.
The mission being performed by RFA Mounts Bay is something that the US Department of Defense should emulate. Loading a ship of the Military Sealift Command or the Maritime Administration’s Ready Reserve Force and having it available during hurricane months could save and assist countless lives in the Caribbean and along the American coast in case of another storm, which we know will happen. This can be aligned with regular exercises to test activate a ship in reserve and include other assets, such as Navy amphibious ships, fast expeditionary transports, and expeditionary support bases, along with the US Coast Guard. The mission being performed by Mounts Bay demonstrates not only soft power application, but more importantly, the human and compassionate side of sea power.