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Stirling work begins as new minehunting mother ship starts trials

24 May 2023
Making her way down the Hamoaze for the first time under the fouled Blue Ensign, the standard of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, is Stirling Castle, the newest addition to the RFA flotilla – and the future of minehunting.

Four months after she arrived in Devonport as MV Island Crown, the UK’s new mother ship for crewless mine warfare systems has completed her military conversion from oil rig support vessel.

She will now undergo trials and training as the few dozen crew learn how she handles and how to safely operate both the systems originally installed – and some of the specific equipment fitted since she sailed into Plymouth in January.

When operational, the ship will host various autonomous minehunting systems, operated by Royal Navy personnel who will launch and recover the devices, as well as analyse the data they gather while scouring home waters for mines and underwater explosive devices.

In doing so, Stirling Castle will replace traditional mine countermeasures vessels, instead exploiting a series of uncrewed devices – the joint French-UK Maritime Mine Counter Measures (MMCM) system, the Combined Influence Sweep (SWEEP) system and Medium Underwater Autonomous Vehicles (MAUVs) – to locate, identify and neutralise mine threats, particularly in UK waters.

The aim is to both search more extensive stretches of sea – and remove the threat to naval personnel by keeping them well away from the minefield… leaving the robot systems to do the legwork.

The ship’s company have worked together fantastically to reach this milestone. Let the trials commence!

Capt Ali Clack

That’s for later this year; for now, said Capt Ali Clack, Stirling Castle’s first Commanding Officer, the emphasis is on learning how best to run and maintain the distinctive-looking 6,000-tonne vessel, test safety systems and effectively write the instruction/operators’ manual.

“Getting under way with crew for the first time is a significant milestone in RFA Stirling Castle’s transition into service,” he said.

“The ship’s company have worked together fantastically to reach this milestone. Let the trials commence!”

The first drills conducted in Plymouth Sound were overboard drills – rescuing a sailor who’s fallen in the water (in this case played by a dummy).
Stirling Castle launched her two boats – Ketchup (it’s bright red) and Mustard (yellow) – to recover the accident-prone mannequin.
 
Images credit to RFA Nostalgia. 

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