Echo's expert rescuers help Cyprus forces prepare for disaster at sea

When you've saved more than 6,000 lives at sea, a search and rescue exercise must be as easy as riding a bike.

Echo's expert rescuers help Cyprus forces prepare for disaster at seaBut just in case the main routes used by migrants from Africa and the Middle East shift to Cypriot waters, the veteran lifesavers of HMS Echo shared their experience with the island's rescue teams for the first time.

The Plymouth-based survey ship has been assigned to the Mediterranean since the tail end of 2016; her crew have rescued more than 6,100 men, women and children as part of the mercy element of the migrant mission, and destroyed 65 dangerous rubber boats and skiffs, plus handed over 15 suspected smuggler to European Naval Force authorities as part of the deterrent side of the operation.

But no two rescues are the same and with barely 60 miles of sea separating Cyprus from war-torn Syria for example, Cypriot authorities were keen to see how they might respond to a sinking ship off their southern coastline and three casualties (aka dummies) in the water.

The Cypriot Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre provided a patrol ship, Tomakis, a rescue helicopter and nurses, while Echo co-ordinated the efforts at sea, lapping up the rare opportunity to work with air power (the survey vessel has no helicopter, or even a flight deck, just a small area for winching people on and off).

Given the high number of migrants still trying to cross into Europe, understanding one another's rescue systems ensures we can operate in the joint environment more efficiently and share experiences

Lieutenant Commander Tom Becker, HMS Echo's Operations Officer

"It was great fun for us to be carrying out an aviation serial for exercise as opposed to the real life scenario executed not five weeks before," said marine engineer officer Lt Dan Sercombe.

Echo took charge of the surface search to find the dummies in the water; all three were found - good weather aided the hunt, but it still demanded some eagle eyes on the bridge wings - and winched up to the Cypriot helicopter so they could be flown ashore for treatment.

"Working with the Cypriot authorities is important for all the UK's assets in the Mediterranean," said Echo's operations officer Lt Cdr Tom Becker.

"Given the high number of migrants still trying to cross into Europe, understanding one another's rescue systems ensures we can operate in the joint environment more efficiently and share experiences."

The success of the inaugural exercise has prompted both nations to look at more combined search-and-rescue training next year.

Such "deepening co-operation" has been welcomed by Angus Lapsley, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Director Defence, International Security and South East Europe. He's keen to see "an increasingly close security partnership in an always-complex corner of the sea".

After a change of half her crew in the latest watch rotation in Cyprus, Echo has returned to the central Mediterranean alongside ships of the EUNAVFOR which is leading the counter-smuggling/migrant rescue mission (Operation Sophia) off the Libyan coast.