Refugees from a war-torn country have been processed and safely evacuated by the Royal Navy’s Fleet Flagship HMS Bulwark as part of a large multinational exercise scenario.
More than 60 naval personnel from the Plymouth-based amphibious assault ship and around 30 Royal Marines of 539 Assault Squadron set up a facility on Craignarget beach near Stranraer to process entitled citizens.
Tents providing medical help and food plus a media cell were set up, with Royal Marines ensuring a ring of security to ensure a well managed situation, and the security of both the naval personnel and those being evacuated.
Exercise planners ensured some of the actors playing those hoping to be evacuated presented a variety of issues for the Bulwark team to deal with.
These included non-entitled, and subsequently angry, locals as well as pregnant women on the verge of giving birth and people determined to try and outrun the Royal Marines in a bid to reach the ship.
“Both in real life and for the exercise we are given a list of those people entitled to be evacuated,” explained aircraft handler Naval Airman Ella McKenzie.
“We then check they aren’t carrying anything they shouldn’t be and take them to our tents to receive medical treatment, if needed, or a hot drink and food before they are escorted onto the ship.
“Navy personnel provide the processing side of things while the Royal Marines provide us with protection from those who may not be happy that they are not entitled to be evacuated by the UK and also any rebel forces that could be operating nearby.
“My role today is as a researcher – the team that check the visitors over and as I was patting down the lady playing a pregnant non-entitled civilian, she began to pretend to give birth which was definitely a surprising part of the role play.”
The evacuation of UK citizens from unsettled situations across the world is a key role for the Royal Navy.
Recent examples include HMS Albion rescuing 1,150 holidaymakers from Spain stranded by the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud in 2010 and in 2011 HMS York evacuated 43 personnel from Libya during the civil uprising.
Commander Gavin Edward, Weapon Engineer Officer on board HMS Bulwark said the training was essential for naval operations across the globe.
“Exercises like these give us a chance to ensure that skill base is constantly refreshed. In 2006 HMS Bulwark evacuated people from Lebanon to Cyprus so we are no stranger to this type of requirement ourselves.”
More than 34 warships are taking part in Exercise Joint Warrior from the UK, US, Netherlands, France, Denmark, Turkey and Norway with the aim to test the high readiness of the forces involved and the range of capabilities available for short notice operations across the globe.
As well as the marines exercising their amphibious skills, the 12 Royal Navy ships and their international counterparts will be tested in air defence, surface attack and underwater warfare during the three weeks at sea.
Press Release, April 3, 2014; Image: Royal Navy