The commanding officer of a support ship to the Royal Navy spoke of how sad he was the ship will be leaving Plymouth for the final time before being laid up.
The one-stop supplies ship Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Fort George sailed from Plymouth on Tuesday 22 February for her final voyage before her planned retirement from service after distinguished worldwide service.
RFA Fort George entered HM Naval Base for the final time earlier this month and has since off-loaded the remaining cargo and equipment prior to her departure. Several VIP events were held to mark the occasion and included a visit and farewell luncheon event held in honour of the ship’s Lady Sponsor – Lady Annie Slater with her husband Admiral Sir Jock Slater (ret’d).
Captain Jamie Murchie said: “This special event was a good celebration of the ship’s past, but inevitably, was also tinged with sadness because no one likes to see a ship go out of service.’’
He added: “I am very proud to be the commanding officer of Fort George for the past nine years. The highlights have been working on operations supporting the Royal Navy with a dedicated professional team over the years. I will be sad to leave her.”
The auxiliary oiler replenishment class of RFA ships are the largest in the fleet, displacing more than HMS Ark Royal or HMS Ocean and their flexibility and adaptability has brought them many varied tasks throughout the years. The ship’s multi-role and flexibility has been the key to her success in humanitarian and operational tasks over the years. Captain Murchie singled out a highlight of his career the Battle of Trafalgar 200th anniversary celebrations in Portsmouth when his ship hosted Princess Michael of Kent.
The ship has been presented with the Commander-in-Chief’s Royal Fleet Auxiliary Ship of the Year Trophy by Commodore (RFA) W Walworth who commended the ship’s company on how well Fort George had performed throughout 2010. He made special mention of the ship’s exemplary work during the Auriga 2010 deployment in off the United States eastern coast where the ship had been the sole supply ship and for a period, the command ship for the whole task group.
RFA Fort George has served with distinction throughout the world. Highlights including taking part in the handover of Hong Kong; in 2000 the ship played a major part in the flood relief of Mozambique for which the ship and her embarked squadron 820 Naval Air Squadron were awarded the Wilkinson ‘Sword of Peace’; while in June that year she supported the Sierra Leone campaign.
In early 2002 the ship was heavily involved in supporting land forces in Afghanistan, while the highlight of 2004 was a high-profile visit to New York for the Independence Day celebrations, where the ship was given a prime berth in Manhattan next to the new Cunard liner Queen Mary 2.
For the Trafalgar-200 Fleet Review off Spithead in 2005 the ship acted as the host ship for the Royal Naval Reserve and hosted their Royal Highnesses Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.
In 2010 RFA Fort George carried out the highest total of deck landings in the Royal Navy throughout the Auriga 2010 deployment in the US, two Joint Warrior Exercises in the Atlantic off Scotland and several periods of supporting operational flying training for squadrons from the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, Army and RAF.
Deputy Logistics Officer David Knight, of Exmouth, Devon, said: “It is like leaving a family when you leave a ship, especially when it is going out of service. But there is a good career to have still. I am looking forward to my next ship.”
He said the ship’s final fate had yet to be determined, but one of his priorities would be to ensure the least
disruption to the crew as they left the ship in the following weeks. He said some had already left for training or posted to other Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships and establishments and exciting careers in the RFA remained open to them. Captain Murchie said he had very much enjoyed hosting the Lady Annie Slater and her husband Admiral Sir Jock Slater to the farewell lunch onboard and had been particularly proud to receive the trophy.
RFA Fort George was built by Swan Hunter Shipbuilders on the Tyne and entered service in 1994. The ship is being withdrawn from service under the Strategic Defence and Security Review and the need to reduce the number of auxiliary ships needed to support a reduced fleet. The ship is one of two auxiliary oiler replenishment class ships – a combined fleet support tanker and stores ships designed to give one-stop support to naval task groups.
RFA Fort George has a crew of 95 officers and ratings of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, 24 members of the civilian Defence Equipment & Support organisation and 15 Royal Navy personnel for air operations to operate close-In weapons system maintenance. When a helicopter squadron is embarked up to a further 90 Royal Navy aircrew and support staff are carried on board. The ship has a large two-spot flight deck with hangar and maintenance services for three Merlin-sized helicopters. The helicopters can be used for anti-submarine, anti-surface warfare, troop carrying or for the transfer of stores and equipment as loads underslung from the helicopters. The ship can carry over 10,000 tonnes of fuel, aviation fuel, lubricating oil and fresh water as well as over 6,000 items of naval stores, armament, food and general stores for issue to other ships.