Britain: A Long-Term Contract to Support the Royal Fleet Auxiliary

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RFA Gold Rover(click to view full) The UK Ministry of Defence’s concerted effort to reform its defense support operations continues. Overall, “future contracting for availability,” rather than paying for parts and labor hours, remains the overall direction. The Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service, which provided a number of services in and around the Royal Navy’s major […]
Gold Rovery

RFA Gold Rover
(click to view full)

The UK Ministry of Defence’s concerted effort to reform its defense support operations continues. Overall, “future contracting for availability,” rather than paying for parts and labor hours, remains the overall direction. The Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service, which provided a number of services in and around the Royal Navy’s major ports, was outsourced to Serco in a GBP 1 billion December 2007 contract.

Now, a deal that could last for 30 years is providing provide through-life support for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary of Britain’s oilers, supply ships, and landing ships.

RFA: The Fleet

RFA Largs Bay & Cruise ship

RFA Largs Bay –
now HMAS Choules
(click to view full)

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary is a civilian-manned fleet, owned by the Ministry of Defense, which supports Royal Navy ships around the world with fuel, ammunition and supplies. The USA’s MSC uses a combination of civilians and Navy personnel, while RFA personnel are uniformed civil servants employed under the UK Merchant Shipping Act. They are structurally aligned with the Royal Navy and have a high level of specialist military training.

Britain’s RFA operates 6 Point Class 23,000t roll-on/roll-off sealift ships, operated under a Public/Private Finance Initiative.

Its stores/ dry-cargo ships include 2 Fort Rosalie Class 23,384t vessels, and the 33,675t RFA Fort Victoria. All 3 are expected to be retired in favor of 3 MARS Fleet Solid Stores ships, to be ordered over the next 10 years.

The 4 MARS Tide Class tankers ordered in 2012 will replace the RFA’s 2 current Rover Class 16,160t oilers, and the 37,874t RFA Orangeleaf. In truth, the 4 ships new ships are replacing 5, because another 2 Leaf Class oilers were retired between the original 2008 RFA support contract and the MARS Tide Class deal: Brambleleaf (2009) and Bayleaf (2011). Overall tonnage remains about the same.

The RFA’s 2 Wave Class 31,500t oilers will continue to serve for many more years, alongside the Tide Class.

The 28,000t RFA Argus was originally purchased as an aviation training ship, but following a refit, its main role these days is as a hospital ship.

When the new contract arrangements began, the RFA had 4 Bay Class 16,160t amphibious assault ships, built on the same base “Enforcer” design as the Dutch Rotterdam family and Spain’s Galicia Class. In 2011, the UK’s budget difficulties forced the RFA to sell Largs Bay to Australia very early in her service career, and the ship departed these support arrangements when it because HMAS Choules. The other 3 ships of class remain in the RFA.

A New Support Model for the RFA

RFA Bayleaf

RFA Bayleaf, 1982-2011
(click to view full)

The winning contractors under the new model will maintain ‘clusters’ of ships that are assigned according to their duties and capabilities. Their responsibilities involve the necessary refueling and refit work for the RFA vessels throughout their service lives. The Navy and Minister of Defence will work closely with the contractors to improve their understanding over time, and also help them forecast their workload farther into the future.

This kind of predictability is critical to the maritime industry, which often suffers when order swings and uncertainty make it difficult to maintain a core workforce of skilled and experienced people. This BBC quote is an excellent illustration of the phenomenon, which is not at all unique to Britain:

“Trainee engineer Fred Hawkey, who found work at the docks after a succession of short-term jobs, said: “Employment is a bit hit and miss down here. You may only get work for the summer so if it means I will have regular work for the foreseeable future that would be good.” “

Development & Updates

RFA Wave Ruler

RFA Wave Ruler
(click to view full)

Dec 3: Next phase. Britain’s Ministry of Defence issues the next phase of maintenance contracts. These are expected to be worth GBP 349 million, even though the fleet under care has declined from 16 ships to 13 ships. The oilers Brambeleaf and Bayleaf were retired, and Largs Bay was sold to Australia. The contract is touted as supporting around “800 jobs in the UK maritime sector”, and the companies involved are:

* A&P Group Ltd’s ship repair facility in Falmouth
* Cammell Laird Shiprepairers & Shipbuilders Ltd. in Birkenhead
* Hempel UK Ltd, based in Cwmbran
* Lloyd’s Register, based in Bristol
* Trimline Ltd, based in Southampton

See: Maritime Executive.

2nd 5-Year Term

Oct 19/11: Bay Class -1. The former RFA Largs Bay is formally handed to the Australian Defence Force at Falmouth Dockyard in the United Kingdom, as ADF Ship Choules. She sets sail for Australia in November, arriving in Western Australia in mid-December for an official commissioning as HMAS Choules. Australian DoD | Herald Sun.

RFA Largs Bay transferred

April 20/10: Leaf Class -1. RFA Bayleaf is gone, her ensign was scheduled to be lowered for the final time at HMNB Devonport. The ship was cut as part of the UK’s 2010 strategic review, which also put RFA Largs Bay on the auction block.

RFA Bayleaf retired

Aug 18/09: Leaf Class -1. Brambleleaf is towed off to Ghent for scrapping.

RFA Brambleleaf retired

Aug 11/08: Example. The UK MoD announces that RFA Gold Rover has docked in Merseyside to undergo an GBP 8.5 million refit package that includes a new Avon Searider rescue boat, installing an electric crane for Single Point Mooring hose recovery, and replacing the diesel generators.

Gold Rover is classed as a “Small Fleet Tanker.” She is primarily an oiler, with some dry stores capability and a deck that can support H-3 Sea King helicopters. The ship is expected to return to the fleet towards the end of 2008

The dual-role oiler/dry goods Fleet Replenishment Ships RFA Fort Rosalie and RFA Fort George are also currently in refit at NSL’s Merseyside yard.

June 30/08. Deal. Previous arrangements, which saw individual contracts competed when required, are being replaced by a comprehensive contract over up to 30 years. It’s estimated to be worth GBP 250 million (about $500 million) over the first 5 years, securing about 500 long-term jobs and addressing 16 ships.

Northwestern Shiprepairers and Shipbuilders (NSL) of Birkenhead (across from Liverpool) are charged with 4 clusters of 11 ships in total, under a contract worth over GBP 180 million. The small fleet tanker RFA Gold Rover falls under this contract, and will be the first ship handled under the new program.

A&P Group are charged with 2 clusters of 5 ships in total, under a contract worth around GBP 53 million. Work will be shared between its bases in Falmouth and Newcastle-on-Tyne. UK MoD release | Royal Navy details RFA ship fleet | BBC report | DID re: RMAS privatization.

Long-term RFA support

Additional Readings

* Royal Navy – Royal Fleet Auxiliary

* DID – Britain’s Tide Class: Supplies are From MARS

* DID – Amphibious Ships For Sale, Sold: Australia’s Interim Buys

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