Cammell Laird completes £28m refit of the RFA Fort Rosalie.
Ben Pinnington met Commanding Officer Bill Tait to find out more.
An important chapter in the life of RFA Fort Rosalie is nearing its climax. It has spent the last year at Merseyside shipyard Cammell Laird undergoing a huge £28m refit. Towards the end of February 2009 she set sail away from her temporary home under the watchful gaze of the Liver Birds. That is not the end of the story, however, as she will be back regularly for maintenance work as part of the new ‘cluster’ deal signed between the yard and the Ministry of Defence in June 2008. The deal means that the Fort Rosalie, along 10 other RFA ships, will return to Cammell Laird for though-life support for up to 30 years. The aim of the contract is to generate greater knowledge of the ships and their needs at one shipyard, as well as provide better value for the taxpayer.
On the eve of setting sail from Birkenhead Commanding Officer Captain Bill Tait sits relaxed in his new, modern and bright cabin, part of the new accommodation fitted to the ship. Around him the Fort Rosalie is a whirr of activity as Cammell Laird’s team busily apply the final touches to this most comprehensive of refits. Captain Tait is evidently proud of the new Fort Rosalie and is looking forward to new adventures aboard her where “every day is different”. The Fort Rosalie, he says, is now “fit for purpose.”
Captain Tait says that the Fort Rosalie was sent to Cammell Laird with a clear objective – to extend her life for at least another decade. He explains that the refit is in keeping with the PERKINS Report recommendations which first consulted personnel and then examined how RFA ships could be improved.
“The scale of this job was formidable,” he says. “The whole ship has undergone huge changes during the transformation. But a vital dimension to the refit was the accommodation – which was a top priority in the PERKINS recommendations. In essence the accommodation needed to be renewed. The dark, dated 1970s decor has gone and more than £5m worth of improvements have been made. This was a substantial dimension to the refit. It was crucial to make the ship a better environment in which to work and live, and to remove the asbestos that was used in her original construction. The space has been reorganised so that the majority of cabins now have more room but the ability to increase the size of the cabins was necessarily limited by the immovable parts of the ship’s structure, such as bulkheads, pipes and equipment. The Petty Officers and Ratings now enjoy either shared en-suite or their own en-suite facility as opposed to the former communal shower and toilet areas. The Officers’ cabins have been similarly improved and have their own en-suite facilities, with the Cadets’ cabins having shared facilities. All cabins have their own TVs, and the dining saloons are brighter, better equipped and better lit. The ship’s gym was also gutted and a new set of equipment installed. The changes to the accommodation have really made a massive difference and all the feedback I’ve had is good. The ship’s company know how much work has gone into this refit in terms of time and effort from the MOD and Cammell Laird. The finish is superb and is in keeping with other, similar refurbishments within the RFA fleet.”
Beyond the accommodation Captain Tait says the changes to the ship make it safer and more efficient, and that this was a critical factor in the upgrade.
“ When the ship was gutted out we had to look at taking the opportunity to improve fire protection,” he says. “So first all the electrical cables have been renewed and secured which was a highly technical job. There is now more than 88 kilometres of newer, safer, and more efficient wiring. Looking deeper into safety, the refit has substantially improved the ships ability to withstand fire. Wherever there is a risk of fire we have added additional protection. We’ve fitted new fire doors to stop the spread of fire and ensuring it can be contained. So the fire doors can provide 60 minutes of fire protection in vitally important areas like stairwells. In the engine room we have fitted new fixed firefighting systems such as a water mist spray system over the top of the diesel generators to quickly and safely suppress and extinguish a generator fire.”
Fire protection was but one area of improvement said Captain Tait.
“The original main engine is an excellent piece of engineering – simple, robust, and reliable. However, a lot of the equipment around it and serving it had reached the end of their life. The old fuel and lubricating oil purifiers, for example, which kept out contaminants in the engine systems, have been replaced with new, modern and efficient units, all extremely important to the inner workings of the main engine.”
Above the engine room the ship’s personnel will be delighted to hear that the air conditioning has been upgraded.
“The air conditioning was old and had struggled to cope with the load,” said Captain Tait. “So out in the sweltering heat of the Middle East, for example, the new equipment will be able maintain a good level of air conditioning. In colder climes, improvements have been made too, with the old boilers being replaced so the level of heating will be much more reliable and controllable. It must not be overlooked that the entire accommodation ventilation trunking and associated parts were renewed also, so the whole heating, cooling and ventilation systems are new and modern.
Besides having improved living quarters and facilities, the ship’s company needs to eat three times a day so the ship’s Galley was not ignored. The old Galley was ripped out and a modern, state-of-the-art galley was installed. Everyone who has seen it has been hugely impressed and it certainly has “wow” factor.
Medical care of the ship’s company (and casualties received from other ships) is a vital part in the care of personnel; the MOD has it as one of their highest priorities. The accommodation refurbishment presented the opportunity to renew the ship’s hospital, and the facility has now been brought up to the latest standards.”
Other parts of the ship also received attention said Captain Tait. The hull has been surveyed, its 6 cranes have been overhauled, the lifts for the ammunition and stores holds were renewed, and its replenishment rigs (used to transfer stores for ship to ship when underway at sea) were completely refurbished.
The Fort Rosalie’s ability to defend itself has further been enhanced.
“The RFA must be able operate in the front line,” said Captain Tait. “At sea the front line is everywhere. So a key part of this refit was to improve our situational awareness – simply put, this means knowing what is going on around the ship both close in and far away, above and below us also. Equally, our sophisticated communications equipment means we can communicate more effectively with HQ and ship to ship.”
Captain Tait goes on to describe the significant upgrades made to defence capabilities, with ‘awesome’ weaponry being installed.
“Despite the essentially civilian status of RFA personnel, we operate in a military environment in support of the Royal Navy and wider UK Defence requirements; as such, we are trained to operate military equipment and understand military theory and practice, and this is in addition to our civilian professional seafaring qualifications. It is necessary that we have to be able to defend ourselves,” he said. “And of course that covers a range of threats from missiles to terrorists to pirates. Our fit of 20 millimetre guns has been upgraded with the option of replacing them with new Phalanx Gatling guns that fire approximately 3000 rounds per minute of 20 millimetre bullets. Phalanx is a proven weapon that effectively protects a ship against missiles, and can be operated in an automatic mode to detect, track and engage contacts that threaten us directly. But our weapon fit is not just about defence against missiles. Today’s threat also encompasses terrorist and pirate activity and we have been fitted with new, powerful machineguns that are designed to engage a threat that is at close or very close range, typically a mile or less. The new machineguns are called Miniguns, and are a little brother of the Phalanx gun. The Minigun is a Gatling gun too, capable of firing 7.62 millimetre bullets at a rate of 3000 rounds per minute. An extra level of defence has also been increased, with the Phalanx and Minigun being augmented by ordinary machine gun positions all around the ship. I view this work as a wise move and a critical investment by the Ministry of Defence in the future survivability of the ship in times that have changed significantly since her build in 1978.”
“This upgrade has been about increasing our ability to service the Royal Navy and conduct the tasks we are ordered to do” he said. “Increased ability means more time is available to do the tasks. But even the more aesthetic improvements make a big difference. The ship has been repainted, the flight decks have been repainted with specialist paint that resists the pounding it gets from operating helicopters, which was a painstaking and difficult job as it had to be done under cover to let it dry. Even the old style navigation paper charts have been replaced with electronic versions and new radar and chart equipment has been fitted.”
Captain Tait said the work will not stop once Fort Rosalie has set sail.
“A full report will be compiled for the RFA reviewing the refit and capturing relevant feedback,” he said. “That way we ensure, with Cammell Laird’s help, that each refit gets better. We very much look forward to working with Cammell Laird in the months and years ahead and building our relationship with their team. I now have a more capable ship that enjoys some of the finest accommodation in the RFA Flotilla, and I have to thank Cammell laird for their workmanship and project management, the RFA’s Technical team in HQ and on-site, and the one other important group of people that need to be rewarded and recognised – and they are my ship’s company that stood by the ship throughout her time in refit. Their determination and effort, often in difficult and frustrating circumstances, to ensure the successful completion of this refit, means that everyone is a winner from this refit.
I have enjoyed being among the close and co-operative working environment that was the hallmark of this refit; it really was a partnership between Cammell Laird, the RFA Technical team and the ship’s company to deliver a working ship. Now I cannot wait to get the ship to sea, get her restored with our equipment, get her trained up, and get her back into the Fleet to show what she can do!”