Supply ship Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Fort Victoria has put to sea after a year-long programme of work at the Birkenhead shipyard to extend the vessel’s life. Tony McDonough reports
Birkenhead shipyard Cammell Laird has seen off one of the Ministry of Defence’s largest vessels following a £44m refit.
Supply ship Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Fort Victoria has put to sea after a year-long programme of work and was part of phase two of the extension programme to keep her in service until 2025.
Dubbed ‘Britain’s number one pirate catcher’ after playing a key role in numerous counter-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia, the ship has rejoined the UK’s surface fleet, ready to support task group operations alongside aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The latest upkeep work followed the first refit phase carried out by Cammell Laird in 2014. It was completed under the Through-Life Support contract held by the Birkenhead shipyard since 2008.
Late last year Cammell Laird secured two new Through-Life Support contracts, worth a total of £619m, to maintain nine RFA vessels over the next 10 years, beginning in March this year.
The company’s project director, Spencer Atkinson, said the work represented “a monumental achievement” considering the timescale involved. He explained: “We had up to 400 Cammell Laird staff working on RFA Fort Victoria at one point, including upwards of 20 apprentices across all trades.
“Added to that, there were perhaps another 250 to 300 subcontractors. It wasn’t possible to complete phase one and two together as the ship would have been out of service for too long, and quite simply, she’s needed around the world.
“The 2014 refurbishment was carried out in such a way that she could sail and be operational, and then come back for the second phase at a later date.”
For the past 10 years, during the lifetime of the Through-Life Support contract, Cammell Laird has been responsible for all maintenance activity on board the vessel – major and minor, in the UK and abroad.
Mr Atkinson added: “Everyone in the workforce knows Fort Victoria inside out and it’s that learning from experience that saved a lot of time and ultimately ensured value for money for the UK taxpayer.
“The completion of this latest refit will deliver increased operational availability as Fort Victoria is now not only equipped to supply Britain’s new aircraft carriers but can safely navigate environmentally-protected waters in line with the latest marine regulations.”
Critical tasks included upgrading the ship from a single to a double-hull tanker by adapting its centre cargo tanks to comply with International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) anti-pollution regulations.
Once in dry dock, holes were cut in the side of the ship and 180 tonnes of steel used to enlarge its double bottom margin, reducing the possibility of a leak if the outer hull is breached. To avoid the expense of removing the ship’s port and starboard wing cargo tanks they were converted to hold ballast water.
RFA Fort Victoria will help keep the HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales aircraft carriers supplied with solid stores – everything from food to ammunition.