Royal Navy survey ship trains with Cypriot rescue services

Search and rescue experts aboard Royal Navy survey ship HMS Echo recently trained with their Cypriot counterparts sharing their experience with the island’s rescue teams for the first time.

The Plymouth-based survey ship has been assigned to the Mediterranean since the tail end of 2016; her crew have rescued more than 6,100 persons as part of the mercy element of the migrant mission, and destroyed 65 dangerous rubber boats and skiffs, plus handed over 15 suspected smuggler to European Naval Force authorities as part of the deterrent side of the operation.

HMS Echo visited Cyprus for a change of half her crew in the latest watch rotation and used the opportunity to share their knowledge with Cypriot rescuers.

The Cypriot Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre provided a patrol ship, Tomakis, a rescue helicopter and nurses, while Echo co-ordinated the efforts at sea, lapping up the rare opportunity to work with air power (the survey vessel has no helicopter, or even a flight deck, just a small area for winching people on and off).

“It was great fun for us to be carrying out an aviation serial for exercise as opposed to the real life scenario executed not five weeks before,” said marine engineer officer Lt Dan Sercombe.

Echo took charge of the surface search to find the dummies in the water; all three were found – good weather aided the hunt, but it still demanded some eagle eyes on the bridge wings – and winched up to the Cypriot helicopter so they could be flown ashore for treatment.

The success of the inaugural exercise has prompted both nations to look at more combined search-and-rescue training next year.

Such “deepening co-operation” has been welcomed by Angus Lapsley, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Director Defence, International Security and South East Europe. He’s keen to see “an increasingly close security partnership in an always-complex corner of the sea”.

After wrapping up the crew change and rescue drills in Cyprus, Echo returned to the central Mediterranean alongside ships of the EUNAVFOR which is leading the counter-smuggling/migrant rescue mission (Operation Sophia) off the Libyan coast.