820 NAS Merlin Mk2s arrive in Sierra Leone
The Royal Fleet Auxiliary aviation support ship RFA Argus has arrived in Sierra Leone – offloading vital equipment and stores that will aid their government’s fight against Ebola.
Argus left Falmouth on Friday, October 17 and made good progress down the West Coast of Africa to Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.
She arrived this morning, Thursday, October 30 and immediately began offloading Department for International Development (DFID) equipment and 32 off road vehicles.
On arrival, the vehicles will transport staff, supplies and equipment across the country in support of the Government of Sierra Leone.
Throughout the passage all ship’s company, and embarked military forces, attended mandatory counter-Ebola training and briefing sessions to prepare for the operation ahead.
In addition, more than 20 Army reservists have this week been called up to help run the Kerry Town Treatment Centre for healthcare workers. The reservists – medical professionals who all volunteered specifically for the Ebola operation - will deploy in December.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said: “I am immensely proud of the commitment our troops – both regular and reserve – who are playing a pivotal role in delivering Britain’s response to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone.
“The arrival of RFA Argus reinforces the great work already done ashore and demonstrates how the British military’s expertise will be used to support the government of Sierra Leone as together we tackle the spread of this appalling disease.”
Working in support of the Government of Sierra Leone and deployed DfID and military personnel, Argus will now play an important logistical role.
Three Merlin Mk2 helicopters, from 820 Naval Air Squadron, will be used to facilitate the rapid movement of British Army medical teams, stores and aid experts deployed to help tackle the Ebola Virus.
Two landing craft vehicle personnel and three rigid hull inflatable boats, from 539 Assault Squadron Royal Marines, will be used for moving stores, equipment and personnel inland along the river network.
Captain David Eagles, commanding officer of RFA ARGUS, said:
“It has been a very busy passage south from the UK. Aviation training has been ongoing to get all aircrew used to operating from the ship. A number of briefings and training have also taken place to ensure we are all familiar with our procedures and drills to keep our people safe while delivering the mission.
“Now that RFA Argus has arrived in country we are all looking forward to playing our part and doing our best to contribute to the DFID-led mission to contain the spread of the disease.”
The UK effort in Sierra Leone is being led by the Department for International Development. Director of the DFID-led Joint Ebola Taskforce Donal Brown said:
“The Argus’ versatile helicopters and our fleet of vehicles will speed up the delivery of emergency supplies and personnel across the country.
“This will give a tremendous boost to our fight against Ebola. Working directly with the Sierra Leonean authorities, they will quickly direct assistance to where it is needed most.”
Leading Airman Mark Chapman, 33, is an aircraft handler on the 28,000 tonne RFA Argus. During the deployment he will play an important role in looking after the regular Merlin flights that take off and land on the busy flight-deck. He said:
“Just a few weeks ago we were conducting exercises off the UK coast, so this is a complete change of programme and a step up in tempo, but this is what all the training is for.
“I joined the Navy to go on operations around the world, but it’s not all about warfighting, there is the humanitarian element too. I am proud to be in Sierra Leone where I think we will add real value.”
The arrival of Argus is the latest deployment in a joint Defence operation to support the UK Aid mission, with around 800 deployed personnel in total. RAF personnel are based at Accra, Ghana, supporting the movement of equipment and personnel, and in Sierra Leone as part of the joint command team which is supporting the international aid effort.
More than 800 local healthcare workers are undergoing training in the Ebola Training Academy where personnel from 5 Medical Regiment, normally based at Catterick, North Yorkshire, are the key component of the training effort. Those healthcare workers will work in community care treatment centres across the country.
Meanwhile Royal Engineers have overseen the construction of five treatment units, which will provide 700 beds and start coming on line by the end of November.
In addition the Kerry Town Treatment Centre is scheduled to become operational in the next few days, with the element of this facility that will provide care to healthcare workers manned by medics from 22 Field Hospital, Royal Army Medical Corps.
Letters have been sent this week to call up more than 20 Army reservists to help run the Kerry Town Treatment Centre for healthcare workers.
The reservists – medical professionals who all volunteered specifically for the Ebola operation - will deploy in December and help run the centre until late February 2015, before it is handed over to Save the Children.
This additional deployment follows an agreement to expand the capacity of the centre to treat UK and Sierra Leonean healthcare workers from 12 to 20 beds.