RFA Argus and Merlins Assist Sierra Leone Communities

More than 16,000 people in Sierra Leone have food for a month thanks to a three-day mission by Britain’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 capital Freetown.

Food supplies have been running low as islanders were unable to trade with the mainland so the UN’s World Health Programme asked the UK military 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 the Turtle Islands and neighbouring Sherbro Island, while the helicopters delivered more than 150 tonnes of food inland, where sailors and RAF personnel set up makeshift drop sites.

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.

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 from Falmouth in mid October, also carries a team of medics from all three Services, two landing craft and five Royal Marines small boats.

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Press release, Image: UK Navy/Army photographer Corporal Jamie Peters RLC