Photo essay: New Tide-class tankers conduct replenishment at sea trials

In fine weather off the South Coast of England on the 3rd of May, three RFA Vessels conducted various serials to trial new ships and their equipment intended to support the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers.

All four of the Tide class tankers are now in service and the RFA is developing its capabilities in preparation for supplying the logistic demands of the aircraft carriers that are heavier than the service has been used to. Seen sailing in formation, RFA Tidesurge, Tideforce and Fort Victoria are an impressive sight and a reminder of the large and modern replenishment ships the RFA now possess. During a series of evolutions, RFA Tideforce completed an abeam RAS trial and became the first of the class to pass all 3 commodities, F76 (Marine Diesel) F44 (Aviation fuel) and water from each of the 3 abeam Rigs.

Although this was a trial replenishment, it is not entirely unusual for RFAs to transfer fuel to each other as one may serve as a support tanker for very long range operations.


The baby of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary – RFA Tideforce prepares to conduct her first RAS. (Photo: Susan Cloggie-Holden)

Fort Victoria fresh from refit. Notable external changes are; the funnel tops repainted in their original grey, no Phalanx CIWS mounts fitted yet and the whalers removed from both the port and starboard aft bays.

Fort Vic is back

RFA Fort Victoria completed a £44 Million refit in Cammel Laird in November 2018 on time and on budget. The work is intended to keep her in service until 2025 when she will supposedly be replaced by one of the new First Fleet Solid Support Ships. 180 tonnes of steel were used to create a double bottom for the oil tanks intended to reduce the amount of fuel that could leak in the unlikely event 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. This entailed the removal of fuel oil pipes and the installation of ballast pipework and new tank calibration equipment. The wing tanks were shot-blasted and painted and in conjunction, major modifications were made in the cargo pump room. Fort Vic is now compliant with MARPOL anti-pollution regulations for oil tankers, although her fuel capacity has been considerably reduced.

The bridge has been upgraded with modern navigation and ship control technology. This involved the complete removal of all navigational equipment, and machinery control and surveillance (MCAS) outstations, including all electrical cables. New decking was laid, and either new or refurbished equipment installed. The refrigerated cargo holds were given a major refurbishment, as was the ship’s galley. The ship’s entire hot and cold domestic freshwater system was removed and replaced with a total length of approximately 3.5 km of non-ferrous pipework. The refit also saw RFA Fort Victoria’s forward sewage plant upgraded.

The ship’s RAS decks and RAS winch decks were also refurbished and completely repainted, while the RAS winch cable trays were replaced and all electrical cabling, including high voltage cabling, inspected. The Hudson Reel cargo pipework was replaced, and a new Fast Rescue Craft davit installed to enable the launch and recovery of Pacific 24 rescue boats. Routine upkeep and refurbishment work was also undertaken, including overhauls of the main engines and generators, inspections, surveys, and an overhaul of ancillary and auxiliary equipment.

Fort Vic and has been regenerating ready to rejoin the fleet on active service. Although Fort Vic can provide fuel oil to other vessels, her primary role is the transfer of food and ammunition. During the trials, she successfully proved her heavy jackstay rig which has been modified to take greater loads and cope with the higher decks of the aircraft carriers.

The view from RASCO on board RFA Fort Victoria as she passes a test-load to RFA Tideforce, the first of the class to receive a Heavy Jackstay Rig transfer. (Photo: Susan Cloggie-Holden)

Brand new RFA Tideforce begins to pass the hose to Fort Vic for her first ever replenishment at sea (Photo: Susan Cloggie-Holden)

Fort Vic receives fuel from Tideforce. Note the twin 7inch hoses designed to double the fuelling speed for the thirsty aircraft carriers. The small hose below is for freshwater.  (Photo: Susan Cloggie-Holden)

RFA Tidesurge conducted the first ever Tide boat over-the-bow replenishment from Fort Vic. The Hudson reel used for astern replenishment can be seen on the quarter deck of Fort Vic. The Tide class themselves are also equipped for astern replenishment although this method is rarely used for transferring fuel to warships.

Even with three ships of the flotilla laid up in mothballs, the RFA still provides the UK with the largest naval support force of any European nation, giving the Royal Navy a global reach.