Royal Marines pass engineering skills on to Virgin Islanders

Royal Marines from 40 Commando have been sharing their expertise with hurricane-hit islanders so they can carry out essential engineering repairs the next time a storm strikes.

Commandos have been running basic engineering classes for locals on the British Virgin Islands - another step in handing over relief efforts to islanders and civic authorities.

The men of 40 Commando are coming towards the end of a near-month-long mission on the British Overseas Territory and are determined to leave a legacy on the islands which stretches beyond the temporary repairs they've effected.

Many businesses and homes rely on generators rather than centrally-produced power - and many of the machines failed in Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Lance Corporal Mario D'Agostino from 40 Commando's Logistics Company has spent most of the past three weeks roaming the islands, getting the generators running again.

With seven years' experience looking after Royal Marines' vehicles, he found the failures were more often than not less down to Nature's fury and more to poor maintenance.

It's not the access to generators and manpower to fix them that's the issue, it's the knowledge on how to maintain them that's the problem. That's what I'm hoping to teach.

Lance Corporal Mario D'Agostino

So the engineer has turned teacher, not merely fixing generators, but teaching their owners how to care for them and carry out basic repairs with his 'maintain a generator' lessons.

A 40-strong crowd attended a widely-advertised session he held at the Festival Ground in Road Town, capital of Tortola.

"It's not the access to generators and manpower to fix them that's the issue, it's the knowledge on how to maintain them that's the problem," Mario explained. "That's what I'm hoping to teach."

Among those listening and observing was shopkeeper Cornell Batiste.

"It was very useful. Now I know that I need to go home right away and clean the spark plug on my generator!" he said.

Another business reliant on a small generator is Carine Sutherland's hairdressers in the Leonard's district of Tortola.

Like many, she's reopened her shop as everyday life starts to resume nearly a month after Irma.

"Business is starting to pick up, I've seen a real difference around here in the last few days," she told the commandos. "You guys have certainly made a difference in West End too."

Other signs of regular life restarting include the daily ferry resuming its service to Virgin Gorda and petrol supplies getting back to normal. Seven days ago there were 100-car queues at service station forecourts; this week, it's back to a normal flow of customers.

And a combination of experts from 40 Commando's Signal Troop and the Puma helicopters of RAF 33 Squadron have been helping to restore the mobile phone network across the entire island chain.

The helicopters have dropped civilian/military teams off at the numerous remote locations based on advice from 40 Commando's Regimental Signals Officer, Captain Alex Ainsley.