RAF Hercules crews are playing a vital role patrolling the seas around the Falkland Islands to prevent illegal fishing.
The sale of fishing licences is the main income stream for the Falkland Islands economy. Vessels are permitted to work in the Falkland Islands Inner and Outer Conservation Zones, rich fishing grounds which extend 200 miles from the Islands where squid is the main catch.
With up to several hundred vessels working in the area at any one time, patrolling the large expanse of ocean is essential to ensure that the licence system is not abused.
Each fishing vessel over 300 tonnes transmits a signal which can be plotted and interrogated on a laptop in the Hercules cockpit. A click of the mouse can reveal a wealth of information, including the dimensions of the vessel, its country of registration and its current activity. More importantly the identity of each trawler is cross-referenced with a list of the issued licences held on the aircraft.
These actions are undertaken by the Air Loadmaster as Flight Seargent Daz Addison explained:
"If not on the list of licences issued by the Falkland Islands Government we’ll drop to low-level and take photographs of the vessel and send a report to Fisheries Operations when we land. The Falkland Islands have their own fishery protection vessel which can then investigate further if required."
He added, "We always do this in the Falkland Islands. It’s a secondary role and as we’re airborne most days in any event we’re happy to be tasked to do it."
The C-130 crews will also use the aircraft radar to detect any vessels which are not broadcasting their details.
On each and every flight the Hercules carries Air Survival Rescue Apparatus, supplementary kit which includes a multi-seat life raft which can be dropped to those in need. Wg Cdr Martin Rose, Officer Commanding 905 EAW explained the role of the Hercules in long-range search and rescue:
"They are all-weather, day-night capable and incredibly good. To give an indication of the SAR capability at the beginning of February a fishing vessel 300 miles north of us [needed assistance and so] steamed South until it got within range when we launched the Sea King.
"In really bad weather, low cloud and quite choppy conditions, the Sea King met the vessel about 200 miles out. The C-130 was airborne above as top cover and identified the vessel, provided a radio relay and the coordinated the helicopter on to the vessel."
He added: "Luckily we had a Spanish speaker aboard the C-130 who was controlling the boat. The crew did a superb job and extracted the casualty and brought him back to King Edward VII Memorial Hospital in Stanley. A superb combined joint endeavour for which the Sea King crew and the translator received a Commanders Commendation; the Hercules crew a Commanders Certificate of Merit."
For the aircrew who fly on detachment for four weeks at a time, the Falklands provide an excellent training environment which includes air-air refuelling, low-level and night-flying as FS Addison explained: "There’s no cultural lighting in the Falklands which means when you’re night-flying you don’t get the definition of the terrain or a definite horizon so the aircrew have to work a lot harder. There are few areas in the UK where we could do this but here we don’t have the airspace restrictions we have in the UK. There are for example hardly any masts or wind turbines."
With an air-refuelling tanker available the opportunity is taken not only to refresh the skills of the Hercules crews on detachment but also to train crews converting to the type. Air-Air Refuelling is high intensity work for the pilots, flying in close formation demands maximum concentration and subtle movement of flying controls.
Editor: Sqn Ldr Eklund
47 Sqn Hercules aircraft.
FS Daz Addison monitors a laptop displaying the location of fishing vessels.
RAF/MOD Crown Copyright 2013