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Support ship Cardigan Bay completes mammoth four-year Gulf mission

A dockyard worker at Portland waits on the damp jetty for Cardigan Bay to berth
18 June 2021
A four-year tour of duty for Navy support ship RFA Cardigan Bay ended – in cardigan weather – when she arrived back in Portland today.

Since 2017, the Bay-class vessel has been crucial to Royal Navy operations in the Gulf – especially minehunting and clearance by British ships and partner nations in the region.

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship was actually built to support amphibious operations involving Royal Marines, carrying and offloading troops and their equipment – up to 400 personnel, plus 150 trucks or 24 tanks at once.

The Bay class has proved to be extremely versatile and useful, notably as a floating hub for minewarfare, command and support ship for the UK’s four Bahrain-based minehunters.

She’s also served as a floating base for specialist dive teams and experts testing automated mine warfare systems, helicopters moving personnel and supplies around the region, and as a ‘petrol station’ and supermarket for the minehunters.

Her ability to hold enough fuel to fill up multiple ships at a time, as well as approximately 200 tonnes of provisions meant that minehunters – which typically have a fairly limited range and endurance due to their size – could remain on operations for extended periods.

As a result, she’s been heavily in demand since arriving in theatre during 2017 – the second time in the past decade Cardigan Bay was deployed to the Gulf to support minehunters.

After four years as a forward presence, supporting defence outputs in the Gulf, I am delighted to welcome RFA Cardigan Bay home to Portland after such a prolonged deployment on the front line,

Commodore David Eagles, RFA

The ship has taken part in numerous regular MINEXs (combined Anglo-American workouts for their mine warfare forces based in the Gulf), large International Maritime Exercises focused on wider security in Middle East waters, and four Khunjar Haad (Sharp Dagger) exercises – the principal annual test of Oman’s armed forces to which her allies are invited.

Most recently, Cardigan Bay was at the hub of the Anglo-French-US Artemis Trident, run every two years. Beyond the usual mine hunting element, exercise directors threw in a series of self-defence tests against air and surface threats, maritime security, force protection and diving operations.

The ship was critical to the success of the large-scale exercise, transferring fresh water, fuel and stores for Royal Navy and coalition ships as they ‘rafted up’ – berthed – alongside the ship in the middle of the Gulf.

Before departing the Middle East, Cardigan Bay handed over support duties to RFA Lyme Bay; the second time she’s relieved her sister ship on what is a well-trodden path of maintaining a continuous presence in the Gulf theatre of operations.

And one month later… on a blustery, chilly, un-June-like midsummer morning… Commodore David Eagles, head of the RFA, was on hand to welcome the crew home and thank them for their efforts.

“After four years as a forward presence, supporting defence outputs in the Gulf, RFA Cardigan Bay returns to the UK for a major refit and upgrade at our industrial partner shipyard in Falmouth. Prior to this I am delighted to welcome her home to Portland after such a prolonged deployment on the front line,” he said.

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