Navy drops bombshell on paradise island: marine training base to be resurrected

What was expected to be a ‘feelgood’ day commemorating 100-years of history on the island community of Hangares, Ria Formosa, took a sinister turn during the speeches from visiting dignitaries.

Head of the Portuguese Navy, Admiral Silva Ribeiro, announced that naval presence would be returning to the island on a daily basis with “operations of great complexity, sophistication and description”.

The rundown jetty is to be repaired to facilitate the comings and goings of “high speed boats” transporting special forces for training exercises.

“This area has been used for deactivating explosives, training divers and marines. These actions will continue and be reinforced”, Silva Ribeiro affirmed, stressing Hangares base will be transformed into “one like no other in the country”.

It was the kind of bombshell no-one instantly knew how to handle.

“Many reservations” is how SOS Ria Formosa first described its reaction.

Hangares falls – for reasons locals affirm make little sense – under the jurisdiction of Faro borough council. Despite this, residents’ connections are much more with Olhão, where mayor António Pina says he has “a lot of reservation”.

“A space for military training in the middle of a natural park?” He wrote last night over Facebook.

“Has the environment minister been consulted? I still remember the explosions! Where are the environmentalists” (usually quick off the mark to denounce any kind of human activity on the islands)?

“Military exercises and a natural park are like oil and water.

“This is going to cause a stir”.

Pina’s surprise has been widely shared. There are even those who wonder whether this is simply another ruse to make living on the islands that much more complicated.

President of Hangares residents association José Lezinho attempted to take the news in his stride, saying it may be an opportunity for work for younger people. There was no elaboration as to what kind of work.

Meantime, SOS Ria Formosa has rethought its ‘reservations’, concluding that if explosions are deemed suitable for the island, then human activity (in the form of all the homes that have been threatened with demolition) must be too.

For now, it is a question of ‘waiting to see what happens next’.

Admiral Silva Ribeiro told journalists yesterday (Wednesday) that operations will be starting the minute the rundown jetty has been patched up to take battle boats bursting with marines.

He told journalists: “There is Vale de Zebro (the marine training base in Palhais, south of Lisbon) but here (in Hangares) we have natural conditions where marines can operate and train for real operations.

“From now on we will be able to mount interventions whenever they are justified”.

The ‘up-side’ of this news is that local people who have lived on the island without any rights of access to Hangares’ jetty for years will finally be able to use it releasing them from having to trudge across the sand to and from neighbouring Farol.

In the future the hope is that the ferry from Olhão will be able to stop at Hangares, making journeys back and forth much easier, even if they are punctuated with the sound of periodic explosions.

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Photo (Bruno Filipe Pires of Jornal Barlavento) : shows the moment in yesterday’s celebrations on Hangares where an amphibian aircraft flew in from its base in Évora to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the first sea landing of the Portuguese Navy.