Sunderland's adopted warship has arrived in the Caribbean carrying much-needed aid to help with hurricane recovery efforts
Loaded with more than 60 tonnes of aid, HMS Ocean’s cargo includes more than 5,000 hygiene kits, 500,000 water purification tablets and 10,000 buckets.
The helicopter carrier and amphibious assault ship, whose officers and ratings have the Freedom of the City of Sunderland, was about to take on the role of Flagship to the Standing NATO Maritime Group in the Mediterranean when she was re-tasked to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
Poised to anchor in the waters of the British Virgin Islands early on Friday, Brigadier John Ridge, second in command at the UK Joint Task Force, said: “The arrival of HMS Ocean is hugely significant. It is bringing in about 60 tonnes of UK aid, that’s mostly building materials – that’s definitely the need we are facing now, on all three overseas territories. So that in itself is really, really important.
“The other thing it brings is a fleet of helicopters, so there’s nine coming in with Ocean, which is superb. The third thing it brings is an embarked force of about 200 personnel who we can use to reinforce efforts we are already doing.
“It is really good that we will now be able to bring something to each of those overseas territories and demonstrate that… the UK absolutely supports the overseas territories.”
HMS Ocean will also bring four landing craft into the recovery efforts mix, as well as 10 new 4×4 trucks which have been donated by the government of Gibraltar.
The Plymouth-based vessel, on top of the aid and equipment it is carrying, can produce 300 tonnes of drinking water and generate enough electricity to supply more than 8,000 homes.
The ship, which visited Sunderland for the last time in July, is being retired from service to make way for the new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The announcement was made in November 2015, with the ship due to retire in 2018 when the Ministry of Defence said HMS Ocean, once billed as "the flagship of the Royal Navy" is to be decommissioned - despite undergoing a £65million pound refit in 2014.
The MoD said the ship would have "reached the end of her life" by 2018