The latest vessel to join the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, the civilian arm of the UK’s Royal Navy, is the fleet replenishment vessel RFA Tidespring, designated A136. After a ten-month construction delay, the UK Ministry of Defence accepted this, the first of four Tide-class tankers, from the South Korean shipbuilder Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME) on January 12, 2017. Several technical issues, including wiring and electrical design, were said to have resulted in the delay to acceptance of the vessel. These vessels are intended to provide fuel, food, fresh water, ammunition and other supplies to Royal Navy and allied vessels around the globe. Norway has ordered a slightly larger design at the same yard with a 48 bed hospital and greater solid stores capacity while Australia is to build a series of similar vessels, also at DSME.
Built by Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering, Okpo, South Korea
Owned and operated by the UK Government (Royal Fleet Auxiliary)
Keel laid June 2014
GRT 29,324 tons
DWT 21,750 MT
Speed: maximum 28.6 knots, cruising 17.6 knots
Range: 18,200 nautical miles
Flight deck & hanger capacity for mid-range Merlin class helicopter but strengthened for Chinook class
Crew 63 plus provision to embark up to 46 flight and combat personnel
Sister ships under construction: RFA Tiderace, RFA Tidesurge, RFA Tideforce
Cost GBP 452 million for four vessels
The order for the new vessels was originally placed with DSME in February 2012 at a cost of £452 million, of which £150m would be spent on final fitting out in the UK. The construction of naval supply ships in South Korea generated controversy in the UK, but no British naval yards had tendered for the order as they were fully occupied with the construction of modules related to the new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales. The picture below left shows tank testing of replenishment operations using models of the new aircraft carriers with the new Tidespring class replenishment vessels.
The last vessel to carry the Tidespring name (picture above right) served the Royal Fleet Auxiliary for 30 years from 1962 until 1992 and saw action in the UK’s Aden Withdrawal (1967-68), also Monrovia (1990). Most notably however, in 1982, she found herself assigned to the naval task force sent to the South Atlantic to liberate the Falkland Islands following the surprise Argentine invasion of that year. Those actions helped the Tidespring name to earn its first battle honour. The board carrying the honour, along with the original ship’s badge, were kept safe when the original Tidespring was paid off in the early 1990s and were shipped to South Korea to enjoy pride of place on the new ship.
Canada is also to build new fleet supply vessels known as the Queenston Class. The vessels will be constructed at the Seaspan Marine North Vancouver Shipyard under the National Shipbuilding and Procurement Strategy. It was announced in 2013 that ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems Berlin Class replenishment ship (picture above right) would be the basis for the design of the new vessels. The first of class, HMCS Queenston, is scheduled for an early 2021 delivery, and is expected to be operational later that year. HMCS Châteauguay is expected to follow in 2022.
Ship of the Week contributed by Captain Stephen Brown, West Pacific Marine Ltd.