Having conducted its largest rescue to date, HMS Bulwark is returning to sea on standby to save more migrants. The operation over the...
Having conducted its largest rescue to date, HMS Bulwark is returning to sea on standby to save more migrants.
The operation over the weekend saw seven boats rescued by Bulwark, two more by the Italians, with the migrants then loaded onto the Royal Navy ship destined for Catania.
The ship's company of 450 has worked tirelessly since deploying on Operation Weald in April - from the chefs cooking for the migrants to the Royal Marines operating the landing craft that rescue them. And when the migrants are onboard they are watched over by the crew in four-hour shifts.
HMS Bulwark is jointly looking after a 78,000 square mile area – something Captain Nick Cooke-Priest said would be near impossible to patrol around the clock and to not miss one boat.
PO Danny Johnson is the ship's Physical Training Instructor. He was on watch when the ship reached 'overload' stations with 1,100 migrants onboard, meaning space had to be used on the flight deck to accommodate them.
Speaking to Forces TV he said: “At the moment we are involved with the teams that are providing the guys with the security up here and making sure they are in the right places. If they need any assistance at all - toilets, water, food, then we are here to help.
The migrants onboard were keen to talk to Danny. He added:
“A lot of them are interested in the Champions League final the other night, so I think they've missed it and they all want to know the score and who scored. I've teased a few and told them it was 7-0 but they didn't believe me.”
ETME James Ball is normally found looking after the airconditioning on board.
“My solas (Safety of Life at Sea) station onboard is the body-handling and processing team for the survivors,” he said.
“When we come across an incident we get 'hands to solas stations', so I'll go down to the vehicle deck put all the PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) on, set up all the white tapes with the numbers on to process them.
"We get their name, age, sex, where they're from - which is entertaining when some of them don't speak English - process them through [and] send them onto the stores teams to give them water and food.”
When the migrants were rescued many were dehydrated, sick and fatigued after hours – sometimes days - at sea.
“They seem a lot better and they are quite friendly, they do talk to you from time to time otherwise they just want to get their heads down," James added.
“We've had a few say they've come from Libya, Syria and Somalia, the places that aren't very nice. They do tell you their experiences sometimes. But they're more interested in me than themselves.
“It's like a two-life thing really, when we go to solas stations I'm looking after these guys and when that's over I'm back looking after the ship.”
For many of the crew the chance to take part in an operation is fulfilling.
“It is satisfying, this is what we train for at the end of the day, not only war but humanitarian aid as well. So when you come across people in a boat, as you've seen, that's dangerously overloaded, its actually a really big boost to get them onboard and safe and then to Italy to see them sorted out and hopefully they can make a life for themselves.”
Pictures Couresy: Crown Copyright - L Phot J Allen