Echo to the rescue as survey ship joins international exercise in Cyprus

For the second time in a matter of weeks, the Royal Navy’s No.1 rescuers have shared their expertise with counterparts in Cyprus.

Survey ship HMS Echo – which has been assigned to the international force dealing with migrants in the central Mediterranean for the past 18 months – was invited to join ships and aircraft from half a dozen nations off Cyprus for two days of combined training.

Just a few weeks ago, Echo took part in an Anglo-Cypriot exercise testing their joint ability to deal with a ship sinking off the island.

The question posed by Cypriot authorities running the larger Exercise Argonaut took training up a few notches: could the island’s emergency services and rescue/military services of its friends and allies in the eastern Med cope with two major search and rescue operations at sea?

The first disaster: an airliner crashed in the waters around Cyprus at night – not an unusual scenario for the Plymouth-based survey ship which was involved in the hunt for the missing Malaysian airliner MH370 four years ago.

This time around Echo played a lead role in searching her designated area through the hours of darkness to look for survivors.

The ship’s company really came together for the exercise – I’m looking forward to future exercises on board.

Steward Rachael Rudd

Come daylight and the exercise planners had a new mission for the ship: find and rescue survivors from a passenger vessel in distress.

Echo located and recovered all ‘survivors’ in her assigned area; they were subsequently winched off the deck for evacuation to Limassol hospital by an RAF helicopter from 84 Search and Rescue Squadron based on the island.

“As part of the ship’s first aid team, I was responsible for getting casualties to the helicopter winchman and securing them, and I thoroughly enjoyed being involved,” said Steward Rachael Rudd.

“The ship’s company really came together for the exercise – I’m looking forward to future exercises on board.”

Also hoisted up into the Bell 412 – a civilian version of the legendary Huey helicopter – was Echo’s 1st Lieutenant Lt Wendy Hems to give the RAF rescuers a ‘live winching weight’ with which to practise… and the naval officer a bird’s eye view of her ship.

During the ship’s attachment to Operation Sophia – the EU-led effort to prevent migrant trafficking from Africa to Europe – Echo has saved the lives of more than 6,000 people, destroyed 65 dangerous rubber boats and skiffs, and handed over 15 suspected smugglers to European Naval Force authorities for potential prosecution.

“In addition to being great fun, the exercise provided good training for the ship’s company and highlights the UK’s commitment to multi-national operations in Europe and the Mediterranean,” said Cdr Andrew Norgate, Echo’s Commanding Officer.

“Our participation in Exercise Argonaut reflects the UK and Royal Navy’s commitment to the close relationship we enjoy with the Republic of Cyprus.”

Once Argonaut ended, Echo returned to international waters off Libya and rejoined the EU Naval Force policing the region.