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Thursday, August 18, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesROYAL NAVY SAILORS GET R&R IN ST. THOMAS

ROYAL NAVY SAILORS GET R&R IN ST. THOMAS

After a grim mission rescuing rebel-held hostages from civil-war-torn Sierra Leone, British sailors from the HMS Norfolk will have six days to rest and enjoy themselves in St. Thomas. Many will have family members join them here.
It is a welcome respite for 185 crew members who were exposed to indescribable horrors on their mission off the coast of West Africa.
They were diverted to Sierra Leone from a mission near Puerto Rico to provide communications, transportation and logistics support to the rightfully elected government of Sierra Leone and to its people, according to Bruce Williams, captain of the HMS Norfolk.
Williams described to the V.I. Independent some of the horrors of the mission.
"When we arrived," he said, "we had to maneuver the ship around the bodies floating in the water."
On shore, Williams said, the rebels had destroyed everything in their path. He said they had a policy of gouging out the eyes and cutting off the arms of innocent civilians before killing them.
The HMS Norfolk, though a heavily armed warship, did not become involved in the conflict. Instead the ship protected critical supplies and assisted in the evacuation of the archbishop of Freetown, five Roman Catholic priests and two badly injured nuns from Mother Theresa's Sisters of Mercy. The nuns had been held hostage by the rebels for more than two months. They also rescued a British national who had been shot.
Sierra Leone has been torn by civil war for eight years. More than 10 percent of its population has fled to neighboring countries, according to a Jan. 31 New York Times report. Government authority has crumbled, and the citizenry is caught in the middle.
Nigeria sent a peacekeeping force known as Ecomog in June to restore Sierra Leone's president, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, to power. Kabbah had been elected in what were considered fair elections, but had been run off by the rebels who claimed the government was monopolizing the country s diamond mines to support a small elite clique.
Sierra Leone is ranked by the United Nations as the poorest country in the world.
Despite Kabbah's return, there is reportedly no real national defense force, only the Kamajors, a group of men and boys who often wear mirrors on their chests, believing this will ward off bullets.
Even the Nigerian Ecomog group is expected to pull out by May. The United States gave Ecomog $3.9 million in 1998 for peacekeeping in Sierra Leone, but has cut that amount to $1.3 million for 1999.
One Western diplomat in the region told the New York Times, "It's a big mess and not one that will be easy to clean up."
Lt. Karen Hibberd, assistant public relations officer on the HMS Norfolk, had spent a day in Freetown. She told the V.I. Independent the devastation was everywhere, "so much so that you couldn't focus on one tragedy because everywhere you turned there was something much worse."
Williams said the ship received permission to dock in St. Thomas for six days before taking up joint U.S. Naval exercises off the south coast of the United States. The ship arrived Saturday.

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After a grim mission rescuing rebel-held hostages from civil-war-torn Sierra Leone, British sailors from the HMS Norfolk will have six days to rest and enjoy themselves in St. Thomas. Many will have family members join them here.
It is a welcome respite for 185 crew members who were exposed to indescribable horrors on their mission off the coast of West Africa.
They were diverted to Sierra Leone from a mission near Puerto Rico to provide communications, transportation and logistics support to the rightfully elected government of Sierra Leone and to its people, according to Bruce Williams, captain of the HMS Norfolk.
Williams described to the V.I. Independent some of the horrors of the mission.
"When we arrived," he said, "we had to maneuver the ship around the bodies floating in the water."
On shore, Williams said, the rebels had destroyed everything in their path. He said they had a policy of gouging out the eyes and cutting off the arms of innocent civilians before killing them.
The HMS Norfolk, though a heavily armed warship, did not become involved in the conflict. Instead the ship protected critical supplies and assisted in the evacuation of the archbishop of Freetown, five Roman Catholic priests and two badly injured nuns from Mother Theresa's Sisters of Mercy. The nuns had been held hostage by the rebels for more than two months. They also rescued a British national who had been shot.
Sierra Leone has been torn by civil war for eight years. More than 10 percent of its population has fled to neighboring countries, according to a Jan. 31 New York Times report. Government authority has crumbled, and the citizenry is caught in the middle.
Nigeria sent a peacekeeping force known as Ecomog in June to restore Sierra Leone's president, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, to power. Kabbah had been elected in what were considered fair elections, but had been run off by the rebels who claimed the government was monopolizing the country s diamond mines to support a small elite clique.
Sierra Leone is ranked by the United Nations as the poorest country in the world.
Despite Kabbah's return, there is reportedly no real national defense force, only the Kamajors, a group of men and boys who often wear mirrors on their chests, believing this will ward off bullets.
Even the Nigerian Ecomog group is expected to pull out by May. The United States gave Ecomog $3.9 million in 1998 for peacekeeping in Sierra Leone, but has cut that amount to $1.3 million for 1999.
One Western diplomat in the region told the New York Times, "It's a big mess and not one that will be easy to clean up."
Lt. Karen Hibberd, assistant public relations officer on the HMS Norfolk, had spent a day in Freetown. She told the V.I. Independent the devastation was everywhere, "so much so that you couldn't focus on one tragedy because everywhere you turned there was something much worse."
Williams said the ship received permission to dock in St. Thomas for six days before taking up joint U.S. Naval exercises off the south coast of the United States. The ship arrived Saturday.