Rebirth and renewal: HMCS St. John’s humanitarian relief efforts in Turks and Caicos

People break up cement with tools with others carrying garbage bags in the background.
The crew of Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship St. John’s and Royal Marines memebers work together to clean up a school in South Caicos Island during Operation RENAISSANCE IRMA, the Hurricane Irma humanitarian aid mission in the Caribbean, on September 18, 2017. Photo by: MCpl Chris Ringius, Formation Imaging Services Halifax Photo by: MCpl Chris Ringius, Formation Imaging Services Halifax

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By: Captain Matt Zalot, Operation RENAISSANCE IRMA MARIA, Public Affairs Officer

One of the roles of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) is to help people in the wake of disasters. Whether these disasters are caused by humans or nature, alleviating suffering is an important military function that can bring about stability, save lives, and prevent further misery. That is why it is unsurprising that the Government of Canada decided to task Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) St. John’s to respond to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma when it passed through the Caribbean in early September.

The tropical cyclone that affected many of the Leeward Islands and United States was the strongest Atlantic hurricane since Hurricane Wilma in 2005, in terms of destructive potential as well as maximum sustained winds. The crew of HMCS St. John’s had its work cut out, and quickly stepped up the pace of their training in order to meet the required benchmarks before transiting south to the Turks and Caicos.

On September 15, 2017, the ship arrived in South Caicos, and quickly began performing important humanitarian aid and disaster relief. The main lines of effort were directed at clearing debris, providing fresh water to the island, and providing work parties with the technical expertise to re-establish power and otherwise help out as needed.

Working closely with local and international partners since day one, the leadership of HMCS St. John’s liaised with UK military representatives, disaster response personnel, and local South Caicos officials to determine how best to coordinate disaster-response efforts. The ship itself served as a valuable command centre, permitting calls to higher command, producing lifesaving water, and of course providing a home for the work parties after they returned from labouring in the hot and humid Caribbean climate. Every day, approximately 80 sailors transferred via small boat back and forth to shore in order to conduct the humanitarian tasks assigned to them.

Operation RENAISSANCE IRMA MARIA efforts in South Caicos were not confined solely to the navy. Members of 423 Maritime Helicopter Squadron, based out of 12 Wing Shearwater, Nova Scotia, played an invaluable role in ensuring that the island was adequately supplied using the ship’s CH-124 Sea King helicopter. Along with scouting the area and transporting officials across the region, the RCAF personnel on board were responsible for slinging thousands of litres of potable water to shore to provide emergency relief while the distribution system could be repaired. Once the water situation improved, the Sea King continued to play an important role, making sure that the work parties’ equipment was where it needed to be to maximize their effectiveness.

Following Hurricane Maria, HMCS St. John’s transited from the Turks and Caicos to Dominica to help with relief work on the island. HMCS St. John’s is pleased to support the Government of Canada’s efforts in providing humanitarian relief to countries affected by the recent disasters.

Operation RENAISSANCE IRMA MARIA is delivering a rapid CAF response that is flexible enough to make an immediate positive impact on the lives of those at the scene of the disaster, and to continue helping people as the situation evolves.

Image gallery

  • Two people push crates as a helicopter carrying a bladder hovers nearby.
  • People break up cement with tools with others carrying garbage bags in the background.
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