Royal Navy contract goes overseas

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A MAJOR £452m contract to build four new fuel tankers to supply the Royal Navy has gone to a firm in South Korea.

The Ministry of Defence said no British shipbuilders submitted a final bid for the work.

It’s a bitter blow to 1,300 BAE Systems workers in Portsmouth who are fighting to hold on to their jobs once their work ends on the navy’s new aircraft carriers in 2014.

Prospect union official John Ferrett, who represents 300 BAE staff in Portsmouth, said: ‘It’s work we could have done with here in the UK. That no British companies put in for the work is an indictment on our capacity which has already reduced and could be reducing further. I think this could be the shape of things to come.’

The new Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) tankers are due to enter service in 2016 to replace existing naval supply vessels.

The MoD announced today that they will be built by Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering in South Korea.

The MoD’s procurement chief Bernard Gray said: ‘The competition for the contract sought to engage shipbuilders from across the globe. I believe the winning bidder’s solution will offer the UK the best value for money.’

British companies, including BAE Systems, had been involved in talks to produce the tankers but none submitted a final bid for the build contract.

A BAE spokeswoman said: ‘BAE Systems did not take part in the MARS competition once the MoD made it clear that they required a derivative of a commercial ship and, through an international competition, sought an available commercial design which we did not have.’

The MARS tanker will be able to simultaneously refuel an aircraft carrier and destroyer whilst undertaking helicopter resupply of other vessels.

They will support deployed amphibious, land and air forces close to the shore, will be able to operate helicopters and are planned to enter service from 2016, replacing existing Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) single hulled tankers.

At over 200 metres long, the four tankers will be approximately the same length as 14 double decker buses and can pump enough fuel to fill two Olympic sized swimming pools in an hour.

The MoD said the tankers are part of a multi-billion pound investment programme for the Royal Navy, which includes Type 45 destroyers, Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers and Astute Class attack submarines, which employs thousands of people in the UK.

Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, Peter Luff, said: ‘Over the next decade, the Government will be investing billions of pounds in our maritime capabilities to ensure that our Royal Navy remains a formidable fighting force. This project will inject up to £150 million into UK industry and support and maintenance will also be carried out in the UK. The Government remains committed to building complex warships in UK shipyards.’

Commodore Bill Walworth, Head of the RFA, said: ‘We are delighted the RFA will be able to operate these world class vessels. These fleet replenishment tankers will be flexible ships, able to operate with the Royal Navy and Armed Forces in conflict, and are designed to allow for upgrades and emerging technologies meaning that they have been designed with the future in mind.’