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RFA Fort Victoria – A month in the life of a busy RFA vessel

26 May 2016
The Royal Fleet Auxiliary has a proud tradition of supporting the Royal Navy globally over many years and it is hard to remember a time when warships did not operate in company with at least one of the multi role, multi capable and multi functional ships.

Recent History

RFA Fort Victoria has been accustomed in recent years to operating in the Gulf region and Indian Ocean in support of the anti piracy, anti smuggling and anti trafficking activities of the Combined Maritime Force, based in Bahrain.

Fort Victoria left the Gulf in late 2013 to begin a year long refit at Birkenhead, from January 2014 until January 2015. This refit consisted of a major engine room overhaul and upgrade, RAS pockets being fully restored and many other equipment and capability upgrades.

Visits to Loch Striven for bunkering and Crombie for ammunitioning led into a FOST period in Apr 15. Then, in May 15, she returned to her well known operating areas in support of the UKMCC directed tasking from Bahrain.

In March 2016, the Command received an unexpected change in tasking, when Fort Victoria was directed to head into the Mediterranean and act as the Command Platform for the UK contingent in support of a NATO Task Group.

This would be primarily the monitoring and surveillance of the growing migrant concerns in the local region, along with the capability to react to any ‘Safety of Life at Sea’ (SOLAS) incidents, together with her core role as the replenishment vessel for the warships in company.

Fort Victoria’s role in the busy and challenging inshore waters of the Aegean, conducting surveillance and SOLAS patrols, has yet again demonstrated the rapid deployability and versatility of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.

Captain SJ Norris

Current Activities

Following the almost unprecedented rise in flow of war refugees and migrants from the Middle East, attempting to enter the EU from summer 2015, Fort Victoria was recently assigned to duties in the Eastern Mediterranean. 

For a vessel normally associated with her primary role of Replenishment at Sea and normally in open ocean, to operate in the relatively narrow confines of the Aegean has brought about a different mindset for the Command and Ships Company.

Additionally, Fort Victoria has embarked specialists with a variety of roles in the monitoring, surveillance and preparation for a response to any life threatening incident at sea.

Amongst the augmentees are Embarked Military Forces (Royal Marines), a Lynx Flight from 815 Sqn, Medical staff, Media experts, Interpreters, Border Force personnel, Intelligence Advisors, Specialist Searchers and a Royal Navy Police Senior Rating (RPO).

Strengths and Limitations

RFA Fort Victoria is normally most effectively employed in her primary role of replenishing warships on operations. This specific tasking in the Eastern Aegean in support of the NATO Task Group has presented many unique challenges.

Firstly, the nature of patrolling in restricted waters requires precise navigation and an increased situational awareness of additional hazards in the busy waters of a popular and attractive sea for yachting and other recreational activities.

Add to the mix the constant possibility of migrants attempting to cross from Turkey to a European Nation and the maritime and operational risks are increased substantially.

Having said that, as a well run and organised ship, Fort Victoria and her crew settled into the patrol mentality with impressive speed and calmness. 

Using a military mindset with a carefully planned Battle Rhythm with necessary briefings, operational directives and medium term patrol planning all being managed very comfortably, Fort Victoria has operated with the mindset that has led to highly successful and safe deterrent activities. 

When reflecting that Fort Victoria is over 203 m long and weighs in at around 31 000 tonnes, this is no mean achievement for the largest ship in the Naval Service on such a mission.

Personnel Embarked

In addition to the ship’s company, Ship’s Force Protection Element and Permanent Royal Navy detachment for the management and maintenance of weapon systems, Fort Victoria has also embarked specialists in military communications and information systems, aviation facilities and other operational roles. 

She is also the command platform for the Senior Naval Officer as part of the NATO Task Force.

Captain SJ Norris, the Commanding Officer of RFA Fort Victoria, commented, "Fort Victoria’s role in the busy and challenging inshore waters of the Aegean, conducting surveillance and SOLAS patrols, has yet again demonstrated the rapid deployability and versatility of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. 

“Re-rolling at short notice from our usual operating theatre of the Gulf, Fort Victoria has stepped up to provide a highly capable and versatile platform from which to launch this focussed operation.

"With an embarked boat group and Lynx aircraft, Fort Victoria has been a major force and significant contributor to this mission, gaining notable success.

"Fort Victoria's ships company has again gone that extra mile to support and engage in this important operation and can be justly proud of all their achievements.”

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