AFTER almost a decade on loan, three fishery patrol vessels have been bought by the Royal Navy for £39m.
Since 2003, HMS Severn, Mersey and Tyne have been hired from BAE Systems at a cost of £7m a year.
The lease was due to be renewed in 2013. But rather than face having to pay more to rent the vessels, the navy negotiated a multi-million pound deal to buy the ships outright and keep them in service for a further 10 years.
The Portsmouth-based ships – nicknamed the Cod Squad – cover an area of 80,000 square miles of sea and are on almost constant patrol of the UK’s shores to catch fishermen who flout the law.
At any time, there can be 500 fishing vessels off UK shores and the navy ships each spend 300 days at sea per year, making two vessel boardings a day to combat over-fishing and hand out fines to lawbreakers.
Commander Graham Lovatt, who is head of the Royal Navy Fishery Protection Squadron, said: ‘The River Class offshore patrol vessels have repeatedly proven themselves to be extremely capable ships.
‘With maritime security and fishery protection roles, they play a vital part in protecting the nation’s interests close to home. I am very pleased that the MoD has secured their continued use.’
The 1,700-tonne Portsmouth-based vessels have crews of around 30 sailors, can reach a top speed of 16.5 knots and are armed with one 20mm gun.
The Fishery Protection Squadron is the oldest unit in the Royal Navy and can trace its roots to the 15th century.
Admiral Lord Nelson cut his teeth as captain of the patrol vessel HMS Aldermarle in 1781.
Today, the ships are primarily tasked with enforcing EU and UK fisheries legislation on behalf of the UK’s Marine Management Organisation.
Their duties also include counter-terrorism, keeping sea lanes safe, search and rescue operations as well as investigating smuggling.
Defence secretary Philip Hammond said: ‘These three ships represent an essential capability in protecting UK waters and safeguarding our maritime interests.
‘Buying these vessels is a shrewd move by the MoD and is another example of the department proactively renegotiating contracts and making decisions to benefit our armed forces and the taxpayer. This contract not only saves money in the long term but ensures the Royal Navy is able to continue to conduct a wide range of operations to protect the UK.’