Hot on the heels of my article on Mulberry Harbour yesterday, the Portsmouth News today that RFA Largs Bay is set to depart for the Carribean to assist in the disaster relief effort.
The 16,000 ton RFA landing ship is normally used for supporting amphibious operations. She will be able to use her flight deck, internal dock, mexefloat pontoons and cargo crane to not only transport important supplies but to act as a platform off the coast. They have a hige vehicle deck which will be ideal for loading supplies. Essentially she will be a smaller version of the Mulberry concept of locating a base close to where assistance is needed. The ability to get cargo onto shore is important – a huge container vessel could transport thousands of tons to the area, but then getting it from ship to shore would be problematic. The other problem seems to be security: a ship based inshore will be ideal in this respect. If several similar ships could be located together, along with pontoons, landing craft and helicopters, the result would essentially be a makeshift port.
I’m a big fan of these incredibly versatile ships. I also think that this kind of operation demonstrates real and genuine international aid, much more positive and constructive than simply handing £bn’s over to states such as India and China who are rich enough to look after themselves. Disaster relief is definitely a positive by-product of having an amphibious warfare capability, and demonstrates how Defence, Foreign Policy and International Aid can and should be closely aligned.
Remember, however, that Largs Bay and her sister ships are part of a service that is under threat of being privatised.