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English: This is Plymouth. Not Devon, but the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat - as seen from a Royal Navy Wildcat helicopter 20 years after the town was destroyed by volcano.

Naval aviators revisited the site of the natural disaster to see how they might help should Soufrière Hills erupt again.

Their reconnaissance mission over the potato-shaped British Overseas Territory, - just ten miles long and six across - also found nine suspected illegal drugs plantations in Montserrat's forbidden zone.

Half the island was abandoned back in 1997 when the volcano erupted, mud and lava swallowed much of the Montserrat capital Plymouth and the Royal Navy was instrumental in helping to evacuate many islanders.

Two decades later and the southern half of the territory remains off limits, even though Soufrière Hills hasn't erupted in four years.

Drug traffickers have ignored the warning signs and established illegal plantations in the forbidden zone, which was last surveyed from the air two years ago.

The visit of Naval support ship RFA Mounts Bay, conducting a patrol of UK territories in the region, allowed fresh surveys of Montserrat - both to look at the state of the southern half of the island and, with police embarked, to hunt for drugs plantations.

Lts Amy Gilmore, Oliver Bundock and Lee Colthart took Governor Elizabeth Carriere and some of her officials up in their Wildcat for an inspection of the island, then did the same with local police, who guided the helicopter to suspected drug hotspots.

They found nine sites - including the largest plantation ever seen from the air, near Dick Hill in the still-inhabited part of the island - which will now be destroyed by the authorities.

It's the second important blow the Wildcat has helped deliver in the fight against trafficking in the Caribbean; last month the helicopter located nearly 20 illegal drugs farms in the British Virgin Islands.

The helicopter also scouted possible landing site and practised ferrying a tonne of water in a large cube slung beneath the Wildcat - all vital practice should Mounts Bay and her aircraft be called upon to assist islanders if there's another eruption, or a hurricane whips through Montserrat.
Author Royal Navy


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2 August 2017

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