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Alouette helicopter from HNLMS Van Amstel landing RFA Argus
RFA Argus and HNLMS Van Amstel
Smudge and Benjie

British Lynx and Dutch Alouette cross-decking in the Carribean

Published: 19 Nov 2012

The Royal and Dutch navies joined forces in the war on drugs when RFA Argus met up with the Netherlands frigate Van Amstel in the Caribbean. As well as combatting the illegal narcotics trade, the two ships exchanged personnel and helicopters, and took part in a gunnery shoot.

Both ships – Argus is an aviation training/casualty treatment ship, the Van Amstel is Karel Doorman-class frigate – are carrying out a counter-narcotics sweep, Exercise Carib Venture – a Dutch-led operation to detect, distract and disrupt the trafficking of illegal narcotics between the islands of the Caribbean.

A dozen Argus sailors headed across to the Van Amstel and 12 Dutch headed in the opposite direction to enjoy each other’s hospitality.The ‘cross decking’ was not just restricted to sailors; Argus’ Lynx Mk8 from 228 Flight landed on the Dutch frigate in exchange for their Alouette, a smaller helicopter which seemed somewhat lost on Argus’ large open flight deck. The link-up also allowed the respective bridge teams to practise their seamanship skills with several complex manoeuvres including high speed, close-quarter passes and replenishment at sea approaches.

And while all this was going on, Argus’ Royal Marines were clocking up the miles in the ship’s gym in memory of a colleague.Cpl Menzies ‘Caff’ Macaffer, who fought with 45 Commando in Iraq in 2003 and completed three tours of duty in the Gulf with HMS Argyll, Northumberland and Monmouth, died from cancer back in February. A man of courage and, in his final months, ‘cheerfulness in adversity’, nothing could stop him smiling. His former comrades Mnes Benjie Cowan and Michael ‘Smudge’ Smith from 43 Commando Fleet Protection Group set themselves the challenge of cycling from Caithness, through Aviemore and Fife, to Faslane – a total of 332 miles each. To ramp up the pressure the lads decided to complete this marathon ride in one sitting, riding through the night to complete the challenge in 17 hours, 15 minutes and 17 hours 20 minutes – neither green beret will divulge who came first. Not content with this single challenge, Smudge and Benjie decided to add a little weightlifting into the mix. Calculating the weight of both engines and all fuel on board the Argus, the Royal Marines set themselves the task of lifting this weight in the gym in as short a time as possible.

Over the next six days, and with some welcome assistance from several other members of the ship’s company, including the embarked US Coast Guard, they lifted an astonishing six million kilogrammes… 5,900 tons… which is heavier than a Trafalgar-class submarine… or the equivalent of lifting more than 4,700 Ford Focuses…“We did these challenges to help out a fallen Marine. We will do anything to help out the family of the ones we’ve lost – it’s what any Royal Marine would do for their own,” said Benjie. “We’re proud that we were able to raise as much money as we did. To know what difference our efforts made, we would be more than happy to do it again. RIP Caff, you will always be remembered.”

Their exertions raised £1,416.10 –which will be added to other monies raised by ‘S’ Squadron, bringing the total to just over £3,000.

Argus is in the final stages of her North Atlantic patrol, which in recent weeks has been focused on the war on drug trafficking and support for British territories in the Caribbean. She’s due home in the UK in December.


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