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Burma: HMS Westminster

Volume 477: debated on Monday 16 June 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what role HMS Westminster is playing in the international relief effort for Burma. (207810)

At the request of DFID, on 15 May the MOD deployed the closest available vessel to international waters near Burma as a contingency to assist with the humanitarian response if needed. HMS Westminster's capabilities include fresh water production (up to 50 metric tonnes per day), two sea boats for the transport of personnel and equipment, communications liabilities and a Merlin helicopter which could be used for reconnaissance or to transport personnel and equipment. In addition, the ship's company of around 150 personnel are trained in disaster relief.

To minimise the disruption to the ship's planned tasks, on Sunday 25 May HMS Westminster was relieved by HMS Edinburgh, which has a similar capability for delivery of humanitarian assistance.

You will be aware that the Burmese authorities formally declined the offer of assistance from naval vessels so none of these capabilities have been utilised. Following discussions with the French and US, and in the light of the UN/ASEAN Cyclone Nargis International Pledging Conference on 25 May, the decision was taken on 28 May to withdraw HMS Edinburgh to allow her to return to other tasking. The MOD, DFID and FCO continue to keep under review how the UK may best contribute to relief efforts as the consequences of Cyclone Nargis become evident.

DFID has so far committed £17 million for emergency cyclone relief, in addition to its normal funding programmes in Burma. The International Development Secretary attended the 25 May donor conference in Rangoon and gave strong support to the UN Secretary-General's efforts to press the regime to give full co-operation to the international aid effort.