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Remote Sierra Leone communities receive food aid

Published: 15 Dec 2014

Remote Sierra Leone communities receive food aid

MORE than 16,000 people inSierra Leonehave food for a month thanks to a three-day mission byBritain’s Armed Forces to islands cut off from the rest of the country by the Ebola outbreak.

Royal Navy helicopters and Royal Marines landing craft delivered 220 tonnes of food for the United Nations to remote and isolated communities on a chain of islands 60 miles south of the capitalFreetown.

Food supplies have been running low as islanders were unable to trade with the mainland so the UN’s World Health Programme asked theUKmilitary for help – making use of support ship RFA Argus, her Merlin helicopters and an assortment of Royal Marines craft.

Soldiers, sailors and Royal Marines carried scores of sacks ashore to coastal communities in theTurtleIslandsand neighbouringSherbroIsland, while the helicopters delivered more than 150 tonnes of food inland, where sailors and RAF personnel set up makeshift drop sites.

Leading Airman Dave Jackson, of 820 Naval Air Squadron, helped co-ordinate efforts by the local populace to stockpile the aid delivered toYeleIslandand thevillageofTissana, ensuring it was protected from the elements in schoolhouses.

“These couple of days were the best and the most rewarding that I’ve had in the Royal Navy,” he said.

“It was a fantastic experience to be able to work side by side with the people who will benefit from this aid. Storing it centrally will allow the food to be distributed to those who need it.”

Also assisting at the dropzones was Corporal Lee Overend of the RAF’s Tactical Support Wing.

“The Merlin’s downwash is considerable,” he said. “It was really important to ensure that the excited locals did not get too close to the drop sites when the aircraft were coming in.

“We had a long, hot, hard day’s work but it was amazing to see how important this aid is to the people who live here.”

The Merlins found themselves delivering the bulk of the supplies rather than the landing craft as unfavourable tides and numerous sandbars in mostly unmapped waters meant sailing in at such short notice was a challenge.

The three helicopters clocked up 42 flying hours as part of the aid mission – codenamed Operation Herring – delivering 314 half-tonne sacks of food, each one containing enough food to support eight households for four weeks.

Mark Warne-Smith, civilian-military liaison officer for the World Food Programme, said the island mission had been “very successful”.

He continued: “We’ve all appreciated the warm welcome – at every island there was a large crowd of enthusiastic people to help lift the food ashore and a lot of smiles from the locals.

“These islands have not been able to trade with the mainland – normally they would take their fish to market and bring food back. Because they’ve been isolated, the islands have been suffering from a lack of food.”

Mark said he had been struck by “the incredible level of co-operation and goodwill” shown byBritain’s military personnel in helping the UN programme.

“The speed and success of Operation Herring is due to the positive attitude and good faith of the guys and girls on the ship, in the air and on the ground.  I have enjoyed my time working here immensely and know that we can continue to deliver such good work for the people of Sierra Leone,” he added.

This is the second time on Operation Gritrock – the name for the overarching British military effort to stem the tide of Ebola in Sierra Leone – has supported the World Food Programme’s efforts.

Last month the Merlins of 820 Naval Air Squadron, normally based at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall, flew aid into an inaccessible community in the heart of Sierra Leone, achieving in two days something which would have taken a couple of weeks using vehicles on the ground.

The helicopters are using RFA Argus as a floating airfield. The auxiliary, which sailed fromFalmouthin mid October, also carries a team of medics from all three Services, two landing craft and five Royal Marines small boats.

“For 820 Naval Air Squadron in particular, the sheer effort, enthusiasm and overall commitment to this mission have been absolutely outstanding,” said 820’s Commanding Officer Ross Spooner.

“To have swiftly – yet safely – transferred 314 bags of aid ashore to a number of locations across the island in only 48 hours, is testament to the flexibility and capability of the Merlin Mk2 helicopter and in particular the skill and dedication of my personnel.  The whole team should be justifiably proud of what they have achieved.”


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