DUBAI // It may not be the fastest or the most destructive vessel of the British navy but RFA Fort Victoria’s three-week maintenance stop in Dubai has offered a glimpse of its crucial role in the war on terror and piracy.
At a length of 204 metres and capable of carrying four helicopters to distribute supplies to coalition vessels, the temporary addition to Port Rashid is an imposing sight.
The auxiliary oiler replenishment ship’s short stay in the Dubai port is the latest example of bilateral military cooperation.
“Our primary role is logistical support, with other vessels using us to allow them to remain at sea and continue their operations,” said the skipper, Capt Kevin Rimell.
“There is a long-standing relationship with the UAE and Dubai because of its location and engineering capabilities. It is the best place for us to use.”
The presence of British naval ships in the region follows a recent surge in piracy, particularly off the coast of Somalia.
Last month, two ships were captured by pirates, while a third was rescued by Indian and Chinese forces after the crew radioed for help.
But attacks by pirates have plunged since the peak in 2011 with 237 reported incidents, thanks largely to increased patrols by international navies.
“With the number of assets out here and with everything else going on in this region, we have seen piracy take off,” said Capt Rimell.
“In the past few months it has been picking up again, with piracy attacks in the southern region. Although that is not our primary role, it does form a part of what we do.”
More than just a “supermarket at sea”, the crew on board Fort Victoria are prepared and armed for any eventuality.
The ship has two anti-missile defence systems and a Mark 44, 7.62mm calibre machinegun that is capable of taking out hostile combatants approaching at speed.
Eight regular machineguns are also on board to help the crew to defend the ship should it come under attack.
“Warning shots are used as a last resort to defend the ship,” said its First Officer, Graham Hughes.
“The ship is a high-value unit. If the ring of steel around us breaks down, we can protect it.”
Fort Victoria can carry 125 crew and 140 personnel from the navy, marines or other troops who are assisting.
There is space in the engine room to carry food and supplies, and liquid cargo tanks and amenities for helicopters.
The ship carries 3,000 man-months of food stores and 50 tonnes of ammunition, providing a “one-stop shop” for other vessels at sea without them having to restock in port.
Besides serving as a centre for helicopters at sea, the ship can also become a command centre for anti-terror operations.
“Counter-terrorism covers the whole region,” said Capt Rimell. “The recent events in the UK only highlight the importance of this work, and how vulnerable we all are.
“While at sea, my team are trained and drilled in being able to identify, respond and react to any potential hostile act.”
Last year, British naval ships made more than 65 visits to the UAE, said Col Tim Kingsberry, Britain’s defence attache in Abu Dhabi.
“That shows the importance of the UAE to the UK and the royal navy. There is a historical relationship but it is of real value today,” he said.