Good news and bad news
In late February, the UK Government, in the person of Defence Minister Peter Luff, announced the placing of an order for four new replenishment tankers for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) at a contract price of £452m.
The RFA’s ships play a vital role in supporting the ships of the Royal Navy by replenishing them at sea (fuel, stores etc) thus extending the reach of the RN and allowing their ships to remain at sea for long periods. The RFA for example played a crucial role in the retaking of the Falklands in 1982.
This order for these double hulled tankers will come as welcome news for the RN and RFA as the RFA fleet has declined considerably in recent years and was in urgent need of replacement tonnage. The original plan was for 12 new vessels, but given the present straitened times the order for four is to be welcomed.
With the good news comes the bad – the order for these ships does not boost shipbuilding activity and skilled jobs in Britain, but the build contract has been awarded to Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering in Korea. We are told that Britain, once a great shipbuilding nation, cannot compete for such an order any more. It is surely ironic, that soon after being highly upset by India’s decision to buy French jets over British ones, the British Government then place this important and multimillion pound order abroad.
There is probably no doubt that because of much cheaper labour costs in the Far East a British shipyard could not compete with Daewoo’s price, but should price be the sole criteria? We need to, in some way, retain a level of shipbuilding capacity and associated skill base in the UK. We are still very capable of building highly sophisticated warships (The Daring class destroyers and the new aircraft carriers are examples); surely these tankers are not beyond our skill levels.
A planned and properly phased building programme for our naval requirements, including the RFA fleet would surely sustain a level of shipbuilding in this country providing skilled and much needed jobs on a long term basis.
HAMISH ROSS, EDITOR