RFA Largs Bay Haiti Diary
So how did I find myself driving a ship to Haiti? Good question! We have just entered the Bay of Biscay and the area’s formidable reputation for bad weather is holding good as 50+ knot winds and 10m seas are forecast. Should I try and go further south to avoid the worst of the weather? I think back to the last two weeks of frantic activity…. But perhaps first I should introduce myself.
My name is Ian Johnson; I am a Captain in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and Commanding Officer of RFA Largs Bay. The first of four Landing Ship Dock Auxiliary’s, Largs Bay is designed to support amphibious operations, however her versatile design features allow for very flexible operational tasking. Our latest task is to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Haiti, following the devastating earthquake of January 12th.
Following a request from the UN to the UK Government, the Department for International Development (DfID) requested that the MOD provide a ship to carry large or bulky items of vital equipment and stores that could not easily be airlifted to Haiti. RFA Largs Bay is an ideal ship to do this.
We are carrying a mixture of specialised vehicles and containerised equipment to assist in the reconstruction of Haiti’s infrastructure. This equipment was provided by DfID and a number of UK and foreign charities. Largs Bay has the ability to offload and deliver this cargo directly into a port or even over a beach if required. How? Well we are designed with a dock at the after end of the ship and on arrival we ballast the ship down, open the dock door and flood the dock. This is then used by smaller craft to safely load vehicles directly from inside the ship, in protected environmental conditions. We carry our own discharge craft in the form of a large powered raft called a MEXE Raft, it comprises a number of smaller pontoons that are locked together to form a raft over 20m long and weighing nearly 100 tonnes. Powered by two large outboard engines, this raft is capable of carrying over 50 tonnes of cargo and delivering it to a jetty or even over a suitable beach. We also have two large 30 tonne cranes that are used to load and discharge cargo from the upper deck. On top of all of this we have a flight deck and can operate the largest of helicopters in a variety of roles. So there you have it, essentially we can load it, deliver it and discharge it, all without external assistance. This ability may be crucial considering the considerable damage sustained by the countries ports and communication links.
Of course the ship cannot operate without its crew. The 127 men and women on board represent the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, the Royal Navy, The Royal Marines and the Army, all of whom will have to work as a team if the operation is to be successful. The core RFA crew of 70 are all civilian personnel with professional qualifications and a broad overlay of military training. The Royal Navy are assisting to cover one or two specific tasks and the Royal Marines assist with ship security. The Army, 17 Port Maritime Regt, are providing 40 solders to drive and maintain the MEXE raft I mentioned before and also to assist with cargo handling.
So there you have it, that’s why I am on my way to Haiti. I have an excellent team and a very capable ship, our 4300 mile journey will take about 2 weeks and in that time I hope you will come to meet some of my people and understand the issues and challenges that they routinely face and overcome.
Now then…. Yes, I think I will head further south. Sea sick solders are horrible to behold!