Since arriving in the Philippines, HMS Illustrious and her ‘floating warehouse’ of emergency supplies have been a hub of activity.
The Royal Navy’s amphibious aircraft carrier arrived in the Philippines on 25 November after a short stop in Singapore to load up 500 tonnes of humanitarian aid under the direction of the UK Department for International Development (DFID).
Teams of personnel have been working 24-hours-a-day in her hangar to sort and pack the much needed supplies, ready for distribution ashore, and the flight deck has been operating constantly since the 23,000-tonne ship arrived.
HMS Illustrious has delivered food to more than 10,000 people during her first week helping people in the Philippines hit by Typhoon Haiyan. The carrier’s helicopters have collectively clocked up one and a half weeks in air ferrying tonnes of supplies around, including makeshift shelters, tools and fresh water.
Since the start of Operation Patwin, the UK’s contribution to the multinational humanitarian aid effort, 356 pallets of supplies have been distributed ashore. This equates to roughly 130 tonnes of stores, including 2,048 family food packs (each enough to feed a family of 5 for 1 week), 5,400 tarpaulins, 46 debris clearance packs (shovels, wheelbarrows, hammers, saws, tarpaulins, rice bags and assorted tools), and 1,500 litres of water to those islands which do not have a fresh water supply.
Royal Navy Sea King and Merlin and British Army Lynx helicopters have been streaming to the islands around the coast of Panay every few minutes to deliver the supplies.
Together, they have completed 252 flying hours and 227 vertical replenishments (where the aircraft hovers over the flight deck to collect an underslung load without landing).
Speaking on 2 December, Commander Nick Walker said:
After 5 days of intensive air operations, yesterday was the most active so far. Five helicopters transported 40 tonnes of stores in 61 underslung loads, with 50 sorties taking internal freight and landing our teams and DFID officers ashore.
I don’t think there has been a busier day on the flight deck since Illustrious converted to a helicopter carrier in 2010. Although the majority of the flying occurs in daylight hours, supporting the air effort with aircraft maintenance, deck and load preparations and planning and briefing is a 24-hour operation.
I am immensely proud of all those involved and what they have enabled the Air Group to achieve for the people of the Philippines.
Alongside food aid and equipment distribution on numerous islands, there have been opportunities for soldiers, sailors and marines to get their hands dirty. Teams have been sent ashore on 6 islands to assist with such things as repairing generators, buildings and fishing boats and debris clearance.
Lieutenant Commander Andy Reeves led a team repairing a school roof in Bitoon on Calagnaan Island. He said:
It’s a huge honour to be involved in this kind of operation. My team and I have found it incredibly rewarding to be able to make a difference on the ground to the people of the Philippines, who have been through so much in the last few weeks.
Filipinos have been quick to show their gratitude for the assistance – from islanders crowding around the sailors delivering aid to messages of thanks hung from buildings (and even tree trunks) or spelled out on beaches (using old clothes).
And from children on the island of Sicogon, a thank-you letter “to the members of the Royal Navy”.
“May you continue to help and served [sic] as an inspiration to all people, especially those who are less fortunate, not only in our country but also those who are in need from the whole world.
“GOD BLESS YOU ALL!!”
HMS Illustrious will continue to visit further island clusters around the central Philippine island of Panay to assess the needs of the local communities and provide vital assistance.
Press Release, December 4, 2013; Image: UK Navy