Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell on Tuesday and Wednesday was at the head of a CARICOM delegation that visited several of the Hurricane Irma-stricken islands in the Caribbean.
The team, which includes Secretary General of CARICOM, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, and the Executive Director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, Ronald Jackson made the rounds of visit on an RSS plane.
Among the islands visited were the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, and Barbuda.
A government release in St. George’s said that this is the first of several visits by regional leaders “in an expression of solidarity and support to all our regional brothers and sisters affected by Irma”.
The Caricom delegation was making the rounds as Britain came under fire for its slow response to aid efforts to its territories in the Caribbean.
Just days after the UK government had been criticised for the paucity of its belated assistance to the tiny British territory of Anguilla after the devastating impact of Hurricane Irma last Wednesday, Prime Minister Theresa May again came under fire for giving a misleading impression of the level of support currently being rendered.
After a photograph captioned “UK ship RFA Mounts Bay is delivering disaster relief to places affected by Hurricane Irma” was posted on 10 Downing Street’s Twitter feed, Anguillans described the picture as misleading because the pictured vehicles and supplies were unable to disembark from the landing craft on the unstable sandy beach.
“It is a message that makes them (the UK government) look good, that gives the impression to the world that we have already been put in a decent position, as though all the major hiccups have been past. That is quite contrary to the facts,” said Anguillan lawyer, Josephine Gumbs-Cooms.
A ministry of defence spokesman later confirmed that the landing craft had to return to the ship before the relief was eventually transferred painstakingly to the island by helicopter, claiming that the heavy lift vehicles were not necessary, so they were not landed.
Conflicting accounts were also given about the power supply on the Caribbean island.
Defence secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, said in a television interview that “Mounts Bay … has restored power on Anguilla.”
However, islanders later insisted that electricity was still out.
A ministry of defence spokesman said that Mounts Bay and its crew managed to stabilise the situation on the island before moving their attention to the British Virgin Islands, which is where the “main effort” was required.
Gumbs-Cooms disputed this, claiming the scale of the devastation on Anguilla was equally as bad, a position apparently supported by Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan, who described the situation on Anguilla as “severe and in places critical”.
Fallon said the UK was sending “a task group of several hundred troops, marines, engineers and additional helicopters” and that “we are going to make sure the islands get the help they need.”
Dorothea Hodge, the former UK EU representative to the government of Anguilla, contrasted the UK response to that of the French government, which committed to an emergency fund as well as a reconstruction plan in efforts to deal with the storm’s destruction in the French islands of St Martin and St Barts.
French President Emmanuel Macron is reportedly scheduled to visit St Martin on Tuesday to get a first-hand look at the situation there. There is no word as to whether British Prime Minister May plans a similar visit to the UK territories.
Hodge told British media that was absolutely disgraceful that it has taken the whole day for international development secretary Priti Patel to respond to the worst hurricane seen in a British territory since the 1920s.
The Dutch government acted swiftly to assist the equally shattered island of St Maarten and two military aircraft were immediately dispatched from the Netherlands to Curacao, from where they delivered five days of food and water for the 40,000 population of St Maarten.
The aircraft also brought an additional 100 troops to deliver aid, repair infrastructure and restore order.
Meanwhile, a second Dutch navy ship has arrived at St Maarten, “ready to deliver aid to the population in need.”