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Non Combatant Evacuation - Libya

Unit/ Formation: Royal Marines

Location: Benghazi

Period/ Conflict: Arab Spring

Year: 2011

Date/s: 24th February 2011

Royal Marines Force Protection teams enabled a non-combatant evacuation operation with HMS Cumberland and HMS York as a part of Op Deference.

On the morning of the 24th February, with gunfire ashore audible, the situation in Benghazi appeared to have stabilised.

A Royal Marine provides security during medical screening at the second Evacuee Handling Centre

HMS CUMBERLAND went alongside at Action Stations at 13:41 local time, HMS York was to follow a few days later.

In Malta, elements of HMS YORK’s Command team went ashore to the makeshift Joint Task Force Head Quarters which had been established in the High Commission building, and as a result our mission became clearer; we were to embark Royal Marine security troops and proceed to just outside territorial waters off of Tripoli. The ship was to be prepared for military action, to gather intelligence on the air and maritime picture and to be prepared to undertake an evacuation of Entitled Persons (EPs).
Over the next 2 days, HMS YORK fed intelligence back to the HQ in Malta that provided the Special Forces troops with the information that they needed to deploy C130s 28 into Libya to rescue stranded oil workers in the desert.
HMS YORK was then re-tasked; this time we were to collect Swedish humanitarian medical stores from Malta and to deliver them to Benghazi. We left the Tripoli coastline and went to Sicily for fuel and then Valletta in Malta for the medical stores.
The sea-state during these high-speed transits was 5-6 so there were many queasy individuals onboard. Ship’s routine remained 6 hours on and 6 hours off. Everyone was tired, the planning process never stopped as the higher command had to react to new tasks and direction. Additionally, there was no communication allowed off the ship and thus times were stressful for the ship’s company. However, by Wednesday 2 March we were alongside in Benghazi.
Libyan planes were flying overhead and dropping munitions about 30 miles inland. The Royal Marine troop, that we disembarked as soon as we were alongside to clear the area and protect the ship, reported sporadic gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades being used within a mile or so of the ship’s position. The humanitarian aid was landed in good Royal Navy fashion; within the safe cordon created by the Royal Marine and Royal Navy ship’s protection teams, we formed a chain to the waiting lorries.
In return, the local authorities presented the ship with a bouquet of flowers and the local scout group had come to the port to assist with the onward transport of the stores to the local hospital.
At the same time, we were able to embark 43 Entitled Persons including 8 children, from across the globe, including the UK, Sweden, Latvia, the Philippines and Serbia. The medical department’s plan for the “triage”, treatment and onward movement of personnel worked surprisingly well; the planning ahead paid off! The whole ship and her 43 guests were ready to sail within 4 hours. The evacuees were looked after onboard overnight within the mess decks at the rear of the ship. This involved displacing ship’s company to sleep in the dining hall and their places of work.
Despite this, morale was high and there was a positive vibe throughout the ship. The EPs were friendly and grateful to be on board, and the Ship’s Company felt proud that all their hard work had been recognised.
Even before we reached Malta, we had to react again. This time HMS YORK’s Lynx helicopter was dispatched to meet with HMS CUMBERLAND and fly an injured Royal Marine to hospital in Malta.
Finally, twenty hours after leaving Benghazi, the ship arrived in Valletta and our grateful guests were disembarked

J Royal Naval Medical Service 2011, 97.1 28-31 General HMS York - OP Deference - S Schofield []

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