Roll-On Roll-Off Strategic Sea Lift (RoRo)
Type Designation: Vehicle Cargo Ship (AK)
The new ships replaced RFA Sea Centurion (above) and RFA Sea Crusader (below)
Dimensions: length overall 193.0 m; length pp 182.4 m; beam: 26.0 m;
draught: (design) 6.6 m; draught (deep) 7.4 m
Project designation: SR(Sea) 7047 (JRRF Revise)
Purpose: A worldwide strategic sealift service, based on six ship capability, to deliver JRRF early entry equipment into theatre.
Operational experience in the 1990's (Gulf War, Bosnia, ... ) demonstrated the difficulties the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had in rapidly obtaining and chartering suitable ships to move military equipment in the short timescales demanded by the Joint Rapid Reaction Forces, and for supporting the Armed Forces’ needs in operations worldwide. The July 1998 Strategic Defence Review therefore announced that "It has been decided that to meet our sealift requirement an additional four roll-on-roll-off container vessels will be acquired". By April 1999 it had been decided that the two existing Ro-Ro vessels would be replaced so the total requirement was for six new vessels. It was preferred that the programme be funded by a long term "Private Finance Initiative" (PFI) arrangement similar to the "builder-and-charter" system used by the U.S. Military Sealift Command. The ships providing the service were to be equipped and classed as merchant ships and would be available for commercial charter when not required for handling MoD cargoes.
As the requirement was non-warlike the competition for the contract was conducted under EC Treaty and public procurement rules. Four companies bid for the contract: NOVOMAR, The Maersk Company, A.W.S.R. Shipping Ltd, and Sealion.
On 26 October 2000 it was announced that the UK company A.W.S.R. Shipping Ltd had been selected as the preferred bidder for the 25-year Private Finance Initiative contract to provide this service. Under their plan two ships were to be built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast and four ships at the Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft shipyard in Germany. Constructing the vessels at two shipyards enables earlier availability than construction in one yard can provide.
If construction orders were placed by 31 December 2000 and delivery was made by 31 December 2003, the new ships were eligible for a subsidy from the "Shipbuilding Intervention Fund", 7% in the case of the Flensburger ships, 9% for the Harland and Wolff ships. Unfortunately contract negotiations between AWSR and its financial backers, and H&W hit major problems. In order to avoid losing the expected and substantial subsidy, on 29 December 2000 the MoD signed a preliminary PFI agreement with AWSR which in turn authorised AWSR to sign a contract with Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft mbH & Co. KG for constructing four ships, and a conditional contract with Harland & Wolf Limited for the remaining two ships. However unresolved commercial issues remained between AWSR and Harland and Wolf, and on 9 March 2001 the Minister of Defence announced that given the continuing uncertainty over the ability of AWSR to finalise its contract with Harland and Wolff, the MOD would take over the contract for the building of the two ships on the same terms. This contract was valued at £80m and is expected to secure 400-600 jobs in Northern Ireland for three years, the costs incurred by the MOD will be deducted from AWSR's Strategic Sea Lift service charges.
In May 2001, the final PFI contract between AWSR and its financial backers, and the Ministry of Defence had still not be signed. But the MOD said that it expected that the final service contract would be worth approximately £950 million (minus the reclaimed cost of the Harland and Wolff ships) over 25 years, depending upon the amount of operational usage.
In early 2002 reports appeared in English newspapers that AWSR had badly underestimated its costs in setting up the sealift service and was seeking a government bailout. It also allegedly wanted to reduced its operating costs with tax breaks and the use of non-British crews. On 24 May 2002 it was stated by the government in response to a Commons question that "Details of AWSR's bid costs are commercially sensitive and I am withholding the requested information ..." It was simultaneously announced that AWSR would not have to pay the full cost of the Harlannd & Wolff ships as interest would not be charged.
In June 2002 the government finally announced that negotiations with AWSR Shipping Ltd. had been concluded and a PFI contract that will run until 2024 had been finally signed. Based on a projected usage, the service is worth some £950 million, of which some £800 million is likely to be spent in the United Kingdom. The service will be available from 2003. The full six-ship service will only be required for major operations and exercises and under the terms of the contract the service provider can make ships available for the generation of commercial revenue at times when they are not needed by MOD.
AWSR Shipping Ltd will be responsible for the provision of the crews, operation and maintenance of the ships – which are not warships - throughout the life of the contract. While the ships are in MOD use, AWSR must provide completely British officer and merchant seaman crews for the ships, after a phase in period these seafarers will be eligible for call out as Sponsored Reserves for operational requirements. AWSR does not have to man the ships with British crews at other times - and it is now expected that are likely to have multinational crews but with British officers. About 180 new jobs for British seafarers will be created.
The selected design is based on standard Ro/Ro 2700-class vehicle carriers. The 10,000-ton ships will have contract crews of 18, a maximum speed of 22 knots, and 2,600-lane-meters of vehicles. It is expected that each ship will be able sustain at least 18 knots. Cargo capacity will include 25 Challenger-2 main battle tanks, 24 Warrior Armoured Personnel Carriers, and an unspecified number of 155-mm self propelled artillery guns, vehicles and trailers.
Steel cutting for the ships started Autumn 2001. The first Flensburger ship was laid down on 21 January 2002, will start dock trails on 26 June 2002 and will be delivered on 16 August 2002. The first Harland and Wolff ship will be completed on 21 October 2002. It's expected that all the remaining ships will be delivered by the end of 2003. Ships should be in service within a few weeks of delivery, and the full sea lift service is expected to be available by the end of 2003.
The new service will replace the heavy sea lift capability currently provided by three chartered ships. RFA Sea Crusader (pennant A96) is bareboat chartered until 1 March 2003 and RFA Sea Centurion (A98) is similarly chartered until at least 18 August 2002. Motor Vessel Dart 10 has also been chartered from 8 March 2001 until 1 November 2002.
Last revised: 28th January, 2003
© 2004-10 Richard Beedall unless otherwise indicated.