Culdrose Merlin working around the clock in the Mediterranean
A Merlin from 814 Naval Air Squadron is guided down on to the flight deck of Italy’s flagship for the first time as part of the international migrant mission in the Mediterranean.
The 814 NAS crew normally based at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose near Helston in Cornwall flew on to the Aircraft Carrier ITS Cavour, visiting the Italian ship in the middle of the Mediterranean to receive the latest updates on the ongoing migrant problem in North Africa.
Working alongside other European countries, the specially equipped Merlin Mk 2 is one half of Britain’s input to the European Union mission alongside survey ship HMS Enterprise.
Unlike Operation Weald, conducted by HMS Bulwark – which rescued more than 4,700 souls in just under two months – and three Merlins from 814, the focus of the EU operations is more on stopping migrant traffic in the first place.
To that end, the remaining Merlin left in the Mediterranean is carrying out daily patrols of four-five hours’ duration to help EU commanders.
There’s good international co-operation and support on this mission. It’s European Union, not NATO, so it’s different from what we’re used to, although many of the nations are the sameLieutenant Commander Chris Wood, 814 NAS Senior Pilot
“The mission now is surveillance, building up ‘patterns of life’, working with the commanders in the Cavour to find out where the migrants are coming from,” said Lieutenant Commander Chris Wood, 814 NAS Senior Pilot.
“There’s good international co-operation and support on this mission. It’s European Union, not NATO, so it’s different from what we’re used to, although many of the nations are the same.
“Working with the Cavour has been a first for us. They operate the EH101, which is the Italian version of the Merlin – it’s similar, but not identical.”
More than a dozen European nations are supporting the mission with three (Britain, Italy and Germany) providing four warships and three countries – Britain again, Luxembourg and France – are committing land-based aircraft.
A two-dozen-strong team of engineers and staff from 814 NAS and the Maritime Aviation Support Force (MASF) is working around the clock to ensure the Merlin is ready for its missions.
“It’s at least 40°C ashore and there’s no hangar so personnel are exposed to the elements, so conditions are challenging,” said Lt Cdr Wood. “It is a little cooler in the helicopter as there’s air conditioning; although that’s really to keep the equipment cool rather than the crew.”
In all, nearly 1,100 are involved in the EUNAVFOR mission, the bulk aboard the ITS Cavour, including a 56-strong international staff led by Italian Rear Admiral Andrea Gueglio, among them Lt Cdr Andrew Mahoney of the Royal Navy’s Maritime Battle Staff.