Merlin helicopters from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose have began scouring hundreds of square miles of the Central Mediterranean as the Royal Navy’s humanitarian mission moves up a gear.
Hot on the heels of HMS Bulwark’s recent rescue of over 100 migrants from a makeshift rubber dinghy, 814 Naval Air Squadron’s Merlin’s are scanning large swathes of the Mediterranean Sea on the lookout for people in peril.
Having completed a 1,000-mile journey across Europe from their West Cornwall base the three Merlins from the “Flying Tigers” are acting as Bulwark’s ‘eyes in the sky’, while the ship herself co-ordinates the UK mission, together with Italian Navy and Coast Guard.
Operating from Sigonella Naval Air Station near Catania in eastern Sicily, the Merlin Mk2 aircraft will use Bulwark as a ‘lilypad’- a floating service station in the middle of the Mediterranean between the Libyan and Sicilian coastlines.
“HMS Bulwark is essential to the mission,” explains Commander Stu Finn, 814’s Commanding Officer. “I can extend my range out over the sea, see further, search for longer and report what I find back to the ship to co-ordinate the operation.”