UK Naval Ship Victoria Departs the Gulf

UK Naval Ship Victoria Departs the Gulf

After three years continuously deployed at sea Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Fort Victoria has begun her journey back to the UK to undergo planned maintenance.

Over the course of her deployment Fort Victoria has operated in the Gulf, Red Sea, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. She has embarked the staff of Combined Task Force 151 (counter piracy), carried out numerous replenishments at sea with multi-national warships as well as the UK Response Force Task Group (RFTG) which is currently on its Cougar 13 deployment.

For the current ships company it has been a long and busy deployment with all looking forward to getting home to friends and family.

Steven Sawyers, RFA Fort Victoria’s Supply and Transport Officer (Naval) (STO(N)), said, “After a lengthy deployment, it is now time for RFA Fort Victoria to return to the UK for her long awaited maintenance period. Our sister ship, RFA Fort Austin, has now arrived in theatre to take over our Afloat Support role.”

Combined Task Force 151 (CTF151), which used RFA Fort Victoria as its flagship, is a UK-led staff of a multi-national maritime counter piracy task force operating in and around the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.

It is one of three task forces under the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), whose headquarters are in Bahrain. The CMF is a professional naval force comprised of 29 nations, who focus on Maritime Security Operations and work together to deny the use of the seas for terror and other illicit activity across approximately 2.5 million square miles of international waters.
RFA Fort Victoria was also tasked to ensure that the flotilla of Royal Navy warships from the UK RFTG, who are in an integral part of their Cougar 13 deployment, were kept at peak performance by providing them with fuel, ammunition, food and general naval stores.

Captain Shaun Jones, Commanding Officer, RFA Fort Victoria, said, “Providing operational support in the form of stores and supplies to the Royal Navy at sea is one of the many roles of the RFA. This ensures that the operational warships can be kept on station for extended periods without having to leave their tasking to enter port, which limits their maximum efficiency.”

Whilst supporting the UK RFTG, two early morning replenishments at sea (RAS), were also carried out between RFA Fort Victoria and RFA Fort Austin to transfer 324 loads of operational stock via heavy jackstay.

Captain Jones added, “The transfer of operational stock is often conducted entirely at sea, as opposed to previously when this would have been conducted in port. This particular operation required meticulous planning, high levels of seamanship, good teamwork and persistence by both ships to achieve the transfer safely against the constant back drop of extremely high temperatures and the high swell conditions caused by the SW Monsoon.”

He continued, “Stores replenishment at sea and underway is a skill that is rarely practised outside the RFA fraternity and the fact that this transfer was achieved effectively and well within the time allocated proves that this skill is still very relevant.

“It also bodes well for the introduction of the Fleet Solid Support Ships in the next few years, to support the Queen Elizabeth class Aircraft Carriers.”

Throughout the three year deployment, RFA Fort Victoria operated under the authority of the US led Command Task Force, CTF 53, replenishing UK and US warships, along with multi-national warships from the CMF.

Regularly replenishing two warships concurrently, one on either side, often more than twice a day has been largely working business and nothing out of the ordinary for the highly motivated and professional ship’s company.

Capt Jones said, “The RFA is the world leader in underway replenishment operations and RFA Fort Victoria is designed with such a range of capabilities that she sets the international standard in support of major deployments, as we are demonstrating here in the Middle East.

“We are due back in the UK in December and our hard working home afloat for the last three years will be ready for some much deserved maintenance and repair.”

RFA Fort Victoria will undergo her maintenance period in Birkenhead.

Press Release, October 18, 2013; Image: Royal Navy