Two British naval vessels, RFA Diligence and HMS Montrose, have proven that heavy duty engineering work can be done at sea, anywhere in the world.
HMS Montrose and RFA Diligence joined forces for the finale of a large scale exercise named OMAR 13 (Operational Maintenance and Repair) in which HMS Montrose assumed the role of a casualty ship which suffered major damage in a collision with a merchant vessel.
HMS Montrose, a Type 23 frigate, started to limp along as part of the exercise having carried out Damage Control procedures but what she really needed was some external assistance to get her machinery and weapon systems working again.
To her rescue came Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Diligence one of the best equipped support ships available to the Royal Navy. Once in range, Diligence transferred to Montrose a team of expert salvage engineers from the MOD’s Salvage and Maritime Operations Team (SALMO).
Trained to liaise with the onboard marine engineer specialists to assess the situation, the salvage team swiftly advised what work was needed to repair the stricken ship.
Commander James Parkin, Commanding Officer of HMS Montrose then took the decision that Montrose should be moved to more sheltered waters in order to carry out repairs. What followed next was a rare and strange sight at sea: a Royal Navy warship being taken under tow.
This complex seamanship task which involved attaching Montrose’s anchor cable to a towline, was expertly and successfully executed in the choppy seas. After the tow, another incredible sight as the 4,800 tonne frigate rafted up alongside the 12,500 tonne RFA in open waters.
Once alongside, Diligence began providing Montrose with essential electrical power, fuel, pressurised air needed for operating onboard machinery, high pressure salt water for the fire mains and – vital in the Gulf – chilled air for keeping electronic equipment cool.
Lieutenant Commander Trevor Bradley, officer in charge of NP1600, the Royal Navy’s rapid reaction engineering team, said: “Being able to deploy on RFA Diligence allows my team of highly skilled engineers to train in as realistic a scenario as possible.
“I am thrilled with the level of interaction and proving of concepts and services that we have achieved today.”
Lieutenant Commander Fergus Ochtman-Corfe, Marine Engineer Officer onboard HMS Montrose, said: “In a real life incident of this nature, the continuous onboard training, which builds on that delivered by FOST (Flag Officer Sea Training), means that the initial efforts of the ship’s company would save the ship.
“However having a capability like RFA Diligence, coupled with the expertise of NP1600, means that capability can be restored and a quicker return to tasking assured, which is what we are all about.”
Once she had – for exercise purposes – been restored to health, Montrose parted company with RFA Diligence to continue her real-life maritime security operations.
Commander James Parkin added: “There’s something odd about standing on my bridge, 50 miles from land, and seeing another ship overhang us.
“While I hope I never have to call upon the intense damage repair capabilities of the Forward Repair Ship, it’s incredibly reassuring to know she exists and that our highly skilled engineers are able to undertake work of this nature.”
HMS Montrose deployed in August as part of the Response Force Task Group’s annual Cougar deployment which visits the Mediterranean and Gulf.
Press Release, November 11, 2013; Image: Royal Navy