There has been much publicity in the last few days about the Royal Navy ships sailing to the rescue of the thousands of Brits stranded in Spain. The BBC website even compared it to Dunkirk. Whilst its great that the Navy is able to help, lets try and get a few things in perspective.
HMS Albion is a 13,000 ton Landing Platforn Dock, commissioned in 2004. She is designed to land a military force, using Landing Craft and Helicopters. She can carry 300 troops over a long period, and 650 for short emergency situations. She has been deployed to Santander in northern France to bring home military personnel on their way home from Afghanistan, and a number of civilians. In 2006 her sister ship HMS Bulwark evacuated 1,300 people in one day. As civilians will take up much less space than soldiers and their equipment,
HMS Ocean is a 20,000 Landing Platform Helicopter, or Heliopter Carrier. She entered service in 1998. She has a very similar role to Albion, only using Helicopters more than Landing Craft. She can normally carry up to 800 me for short periods. This, however, is while the air group is embarked, so potentially with more space in her hangar more could possibly be accomadated.
HMS Ark Royal is the current Flagship of the Royal Navy. An Invincible Class Aircraft Carrier, she weighs in at 20,000 tons. Her primary role is to operate Harriers, but she can also act as a Helicopter Carrier in a similar manner to HMS Ocean. Ark Royal is currently at sea off the west cost of Scotland, with her air group embarked. Therefore to use her to evacuate civilians from Spain will take her – the UK’s only active aircraft carrier – away from an important exercise.
Between the three ships we are looking at a lift capacity of somewhere in the region of 3,000 people. However according to the BBC, there are somewhere in the region of 150,000 British nationals stranded around the world – a drop in the ocean indeed. Given that a run from northern Spain to the south of England will take the best part of a day, the three ships will make an almost microscopic dent in the backlog of Brits needing help.
Not only that, but the three ships represent almost all of the Royal Navy’s large assets – having them removed from duties dents the capability of the Royal Navy. They are not designed to carry large amounts of people, in the same manner as a roll-on-roll-off ferry or a cruise liner. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary does possess four Bay Class Landing Ships which would be ideal, but they are very stretched indeed.
Its great that the Royal Navy is able to assist in this kind of a crisis, but in this particular example it is hard to argue that their contribution is important. If, for example, thousands of Briton’s needed evacuating from a far-away country with little infrastructure, such as Lebanon, the Landing Craft and Helicopters would be absolutely invaluable. That would be exactly the kind of job the Navy is there for.