The Royal Navy learned many hard lessons from the Falklands war in 1982. And they don’t want today’s sailors to forget.
The Royal Navy’s new Sea Survival Training Center at Horsea Island in Portsmouth, U.K., was dedicated on Feb. 22, 2012, to the crews aboard those ships that were sunk or damaged in the cold waters of the South Atlantic. Veterans of that conflict — including members of the HMS Ardent Association — were on hand to dedicate one of the primary training facilities at the center named for Ardent, the Type 21 frigate that was sunk with a loss of 22 men.
Another Falklands survivor, retired Commodore Adrian Nance, also took part in the dedication. He was aboard HMS Sheffield when it was damaged and the order given to abandon ship. “I stood with [the Sheffield’s commanding officer] Sam Salt as he made the decision to abandon Sheffield. The previous time that order had been given was 36 years before that, and we have not heard it since.”
“Survival is about being determined to confront your fears, look them in the eye and come out the other side,” said Nance.
HMS Coventry and Antelope, together with RFA Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram, were also damaged and their crews were required to abandon their ships. Most of them managed to be transferred to other Royal Navy ships that came alongside to render assistance, although some were forced to enter the extremely cold water until they could be rescued.
The £2.4m ($3.8 million) project takes the place of a 30-year-old facility, established when the Royal Navy began requiring all personnel to undertake training in ship abandonment and sea survival procedures.
One of the lead instructors is Russell “Eli” Ellis, 61, the Sea Survival Manager at Horsea Island. He was injured on HMS Coventry when she was hit by two 1,000-pound bombs. He received burns over a third of his body. So he’s committed to providing a realistic survival training experience that the sailors will remember. “The training isn’t rocket science; ships have been sinking since the Battle of Trafalgar,” Ellis said. “It should strictly be ship abandonment that we’re talking about here. We are testing equipment like the 25-man life raft and testing the individuals in difficult conditions.”
The training is not conducted in a pool, but uses an adjacent man-made lake. “We don’t have the waves but we do have a good depth, about eight metres, that gives the personnel a real feel of what they may experience,” Ellis said.
The training has evolved since 1982 to reflect changes in warship design and safety equipment, as well as general lessons learned from the maritime community where shipping accidents have occurred. The Sea Survival Training Centre provides at least 10,000 training days per year.
“Life is about surviving, in our work and private lives, and this facility supports the Navy’s practice of training their people to survive whatever the conditions,” said Nance.
The training curriculum includes proper wearing of life jackets and survival suits; abandoning ship procedures; deployment and management of life rafts; effective operation of emergency location aids; and treating the sick and injured, including “cold shock” and exposure in open water.