Fleet Flagship HMS Bulwark has restocked her food supplies during a marathon 14-hour replenishment with Royal Fleet Auxiliary Fort Austin in the middle of the Red Sea.
A highly complex manoeuvre, a replenishment at sea (RAS) takes a lot of seamanship skill on all sides – from the navigation on the bridge to ensure the ships stay at no more than 50 metres apart and sail at exactly the same speed, to the seaman specialists who have to lift and shift pallets from one ship to another.
Due to start at 3am and finish by 7am in order to avoid the searing daytime heat in the Red Sea, the highly trained teams of both units were briefed and ready with Bulwark expecting to receive 78 pallets of stores. This would supply her with more than 20 days of food, increasing the time the ship could remain on operations.
Yet following a few challenges the timing shifted right and resulted in a 14-hour RAS – and a shift of 24 tonnes of stock – during the hottest time of the day, testing the sailors’ resolve to the max.
HMS Bulwark’s Commanding Officer, Captain Andrew Burns, said: “The Royal Navy depends on being able to sustain itself at sea when deployed for months at a time.
“This is enabled by replenishing at sea, a challenging evolution for all involved but even more so on this occasion. Both teams on the Fort Austin and Bulwark showed the highest levels of professionalism and tenacity to get the job done in the face of challenging environmental conditions.”
Leading Supply Chain rating Gaynor Kydd who was working on the upper deck moving the pallets from the RAS point to the store said: “It was really really hot moving all those pallets during that time of the day – and I should know because I am from Barbados.”
During the RAS, and in a bid to refresh those working in the heat around 400 ice creams were served, 600 chocolate bars consumed, 150 sausage baguettes eaten and over 600 litres of cold juice as well as tea and coffee were drunk.
HMS Bulwark is operating in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden as part of the Royal Navy’s Response Force Task Group (RFTG). This is the UK’s high readiness maritime force, comprising ships, submarines, aircraft and a landing force of Royal Marines, who stand at short notice to act in response to any contingency tasking if required by government.
Currently on their annual four-month deployment – Cougar 13 – the fours Royal Navy warships and five Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships are working in the Mediterranean, Red Sea, the Gulf, and Horn of Africa.
Cougar 13 involves exercising with partner nations, and will show the UK Armed Forces’ capacity to project an effective maritime component anywhere in the world.