Three ships have held a simultaneous Replenishment at Sea in the Gulf of Oman in a highly complex manoeuvre during which they could be no more than fifty metres apart.
In the middle was Royal Fleet Auxiliary Fort Victoria which has the ability to refuel two ships at the same time – with RFA Fort Austin and HMS Illustrious receiving the fuel on either side.
And at the same time HMS Illustrious took the opportunity to send over Lynx and Sea King helicopters to Fort Austin to stock up her food supplies.
Forty pallets of stores were collected with the helicopters carrying under-slung loads from the flight deck of the RFA ship back to Lusty in what is known as a vertical replenishment.
The ships are on Cougar 13 – an annual deployment and work-out for the Royal Navy’s Response Force Task Group (RFTG) in the Mediterranean, Red Sea, Gulf, and Horn of Africa.
Lieutenant Charlotte Cooper, 27, HMS Illustrious’ Catering Logistics Officer said:
“There are certain food items that we are unable to buy in foreign ports. The RFA allows us to restock home comforts such as cereals, baked beans and frozen produce as well as fuel.
“For a Logistician, this is pretty exciting! We don’t get to RAS with three ships together that often, let alone with aircraft holding a vertical replenishment at the same time.”
Commander Phil Hally, Commander Logistics of HMS Illustrious said:
“Replenishing Illustrious with fuel, stores and ammunition whilst underway demonstrates the huge utility of afloat support and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.
“It enables the Royal Navy to persist at sea almost indefinitely, where we can exploit the freedom of the high seas to do what we need to without reliance on support from the land.”
During the serial the three ships, with a combined displacement of over 80 000 tons, sailed 50 metres apart, at a speed of 12 knots for approximately four hours.
Each ship was required to maintain an absolutely unchanging position in relation to the other so as not to place undue stress on the fuel lines during the delicate operation.
The whole event requires meticulous planning and execution. Navigating Officer, Lieutenant Commander Richard Hewitt, said:
“We plan the course well in advance to make sure we have enough sea room to complete the Replenishment At Sea. In addition, we have to remain on a course relative to the wind that allows the helicopters to lift and land back on.
The trickiest element is moving into position along side the other ships. After that, it is simply a case of making small adjustments and refinements to our course and speed.”
Press Release, September 26, 2013; Image: Royal Navy