HMS Albion a step closer to joining Royal Navy next year

HMS Albion – the Royal Navy amphibious assault ship that has been mothballed in 2011, just eight years after she joined the fleet – is gradually coming to life one step at a time.

In her latest milestone, the amphibious command ship been placed in long term lay-up with her own generators now powering lighting and computer systems.

Shipbuilder Babcock is in charge of the refit that began in October 2014.

Sister ship HMS Bulwark, also Plymouth-based, has been Britain’s on-call assault ship as HMS Albion undergoes her refit. Next year the two ships are set to trade places as HMS Bulwark goes into long-term refit and HMS Albion completes her massive two-year keel-to-topmast overhaul.

HMS Albion has been gradually coming to life since the middle of 2015. A year into her refit, work below the waterline was completed in dry dock, allowing the to be flooded and she was towed to a new basin for completion of the refit afloat.

Today she has her superstructure covered in scaffolding and tarpaulin, and with the 87-strong ship’s company ticking off milestones by the week as they gear up for the crew moving back on board early in the New Year, the arrival of the first commanding officer in six years, then sea trials and being formally handed back to the Navy and a rededication in the autumn followed by operational sea training.

HMS Albion is the first vessel to be newly equipped with a fresh, rather than salt-water, cooling system, which has meant new piping fitted throughout. It means the sailors and the hi-tech systems aboard should be far cooler in the Gulf region, for instance.

Some 25 miles of new electrical cables have been installed, two miles of pipework replaced, 100 pumps overhauled, 1,500 valves replaced and 20,000 square metres of steel in 34 ballast tanks preserved – enough to cover three football pitches.

The ‘Phalanx’ automated close-defence gun system is being fitted in place of the former ‘Goalkeeper’ system, which is being retired across the fleet. The ship now has the newly fitted ‘Artisan’ radar which can track more than 800 contacts as close as 125ft or as far away as 125 miles. To deal with so much potential extra data from radars, the operations room has a new command system.

Sailors are scheduled to return to the ship early next year with half of the crew transferring to HMS Albion. In the meantime, the ‘skeleton’ crew already on board have been reminding affiliated organisations and VIPs – notably the city of Chester – and the ship’s sponsor, Princess Anne, that their ship is on her way back.

Commander Mark Jones, HMS Albion’s head of weapon engineering, said: “We’ve done our utmost to keep the spirit of Albion alive – certainly while we’ve been refitting her, with ship’s company attending memorial services to Jutland, Remembrance Day parades, visiting our affiliates.

“That will only step up in 2017.”

The ship will complete her amphibious training with a workout with the Royal Marines and Commando Helicopter Force, based at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton, in the South West before her first deployment.