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The 23,000-tonne carrier was deployed to the Philippines to assist with the relief effort in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan under the direction of the Department for International Development (DFID).
Teams of personnel have worked day and night in HMS Illustrious’s vast hangar to organise and pack the desperately-needed supplies prior to distribution ashore, and the flight deck has been a hive of activity ever since ‘Lusty’, as the ship is known, arrived on 25 November.
Royal Navy Sea King and Merlin as well as British Army Lynx helicopters have operated from dawn until dusk every day, delivering personnel and aid to the island clusters around the central Philippine island of Panay.
As of 6 December, Lusty’s 7 embarked helicopters have collectively amassed over 274 flying hours ferrying people, equipment and underslung loads to and from shore.
Members of the ship’s company have been ashore, camping out amongst communities to provide sustained assistance, and Royal Navy personnel, Royal Marines commandos and Army engineers have worked closely together to repair buildings, fishing boats, engines and generators.
Never one to shy away from a bit of elbow grease is Surgeon Lieutenant James Baker. He said:
I deployed as part of an assistance team to Calagnaan Island. We were tasked to help repair a building damaged by the typhoon. It was hard work; safely removing the old structure and replacing it with one that we manufactured using locally-sourced bamboo.
We then used tarpaulin transported to the site by helicopter to provide a temporary roof. It is measures like this that are among the most vital in the recovery process. It helps restore the sense of normality that Typhoon Haiyan had disrupted.
As of 6 December, HMS Illustrious has aided 12,823 people, delivered 68.2 tonnes of food, over 2,000 bags of rice and 76 disaster relief packs containing tools and supplies. As well as life-saving supplies, the ship carried a team of NHS emergency medics, also deployed by DFID.
The team, which included trauma specialists, surgeons and nurses, was able to use the ship to reach remote islands and treat those injured in the typhoon.
Lieutenant Charlotte Cooper said:
In addition to hundreds of pallets of food, rice and disaster relief packs, we have also so far distributed over 8,000 litres of drinking water to islands whose supply has been cut off or contaminated, 10,000 sheets of tarpaulin – enough to reroof over 5,000 homes – and dozens of bespoke loads containing reconstruction materials, clothes, blankets, electrical generators and boat repair kits.
Altogether we’ve flown almost 500 pallets off the ship with a total weight of over 200 tonnes.
HMS Illustrious has also spent her second week in the region conducting extensive reconnaissance of other islands. Personnel provided aid and assistance over a wide area including the Semirara archipelago and the Cuyo and Calamian island groups.
All of the ship’s company and embarked forces have been touched by the gratitude shown by the Filipino people. From simple gestures, like an offer to join a game of skipping, to hand-painted messages of thanks, the islanders’ appreciation of the teams’ efforts has been obvious.
HMS Illustrious is expected to complete Operation Patwin, the military component of the UK’s humanitarian aid mission to the Philippines, at the end of next week.
DFID have confirmed that the UK’s assistance will continue into the next phase of the response – the recovery effort. The UK government’s contribution has now topped £60 million overall, including vital supplies such as providing emergency shelter for 245,000 people, safe drinking water for 650,000 and food for 325,000.