The offshore support vessel, MV Topaz Tangaroa has been purchased by the UK Ministry of Defence for conversion to a Multi-Role Ocean Surveillance (MROS) ship. She will arrive at Cammell Laird shipyard on Merseyside this week for conversion and will serve in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary renamed RFA Proteus.
Proteus will be dedicated to safeguarding critical seabed infrastructure and will act as a ‘mother ship’, operating remote and autonomous off-board systems for underwater surveillance and seabed warfare.
The vessel was purchased for £70 Million from Topaz Marine, a subsidiary of P&O Maritime. This modern, 6,000-tonne ship was built in 2019 for work in the offshore oil industry supporting construction, maintenance and inspection work and is equipped to operate autonomous submersibles. VARD designed her and the hull was built by their Tulcea shipyard in Romania and fitted out at their Brattvaag facility in Norway.
The ship has diesel-electric propulsion driving azimuth thrusters at the stern. A dynamic positioning system with powerful twin bow thrusters allows her to hold a precise stationary position when working over subsea installations. She also has good sea-keeping abilities, low fuel consumption and will be well suited to her new role. A ‘moon pool’ – a vertical shaft in the centre of the vessel provides a sheltered way for robot submersibles to be launched or recovered in high sea states. The 98.1 metre-long ship also has a flight deck, a heavy duty crane, 1,000 sq meters of cargo space and a working deck aft. She has previously been employed on undersea construction in the North Sea and more recently on a major wind farm project off Taiwan.
The conversion by Cammell Laird should be relatively straightforward, primarily painting her grey and the addition of light weapon mounts and military communications equipment. Otherwise, the ship is already in good shape for her new role and RFA Proteus will enter service in the summer of this year. A second MROS ship will eventually be constructed from scratch to a bespoke design and is currently in the concept phase. Proteus will be operated by a small RFA crew of 26, augmented by about 60 RN specialists responsible for the undersea surveillance, survey and warfare systems. It is expected she will primarily operate from Portsmouth Naval Base, although RFAs are not usually permanently base-ported like RN vessels.
The procurement process has been rapid since the Secretary of State’s announcement in early November. Spurred by the serious threat of Russian interference with subsea assets, the MoD has been scrambling to put this project together in a short time frame. The ship acquisition is relatively simple but in parallel, the RN has been working to procure and equip her with suitable ROVs and UVVs to perform the surveillance task. A cadre of operators will need to be trained up and develop a close working partnership with industry and the owners of the infrastructure.
There are thousands of miles of subsea pipes and cables to be monitored and RFA Proteus is just one small step in the right direction to improving security. With MROSS(1) and its submersibles in service, the UK will at least be able to begin a programme of surveillance of its undersea infrastructure and will have a vessel ready to respond to interference, make assessments and potentially assist in making repairs should they be required.
A second ship, the MV Island Crown, (currently in Norway) has also been purchased by the MoD and is also due to be converted later this year into a mother ship for RN autonomous mine warfare boats. She will also serve in the RFA although her new name has yet to be decided upon. She is likely to be based at Faslane and will operate in support of mine countermeasures tasks around the UK and in European waters.
Island Crown is slightly smaller than the Topaz Tangaroa, designed primarily as an accommodation and ‘walk to work’ (WTW) vessel to safely deliver personnel to and from offshore energy installations. She was also designed and built in Norway and was completed in 2013. She has a 561 sq metre working deck, helideck and accommodation for up to 100 people. More details on this project to follow as they become available.
The forward flight deck makes it look like it’s wearing a peaked cap ? in all seriousness it seems fit for purpose. Always nice to see the RFA get some love.
RFA Victor Meldrew
They’re naming a ship after me?
I do not believe it!
The key here is less to do with the vessel and more to do with the UUVs she will carry. We’d better hurry up and buy those as well and train the people to use them. No point reinventing the wheel. Commercial operators are streaks ahead of the military in this domain. As a first step best to just leverage their know how, quickly put a capability in place and start learning the trade. Only then start design and build of a bespoke solution, if one were deemed to be needed.
I don’t know if buying old ships for conversion always ends up with something as good as purpose designed/built ships, or even cheaper, but presumably it’s faster. The ready-to-go description of this conversion process is really encouraging. It makes me wonder why this won’t be the route for the second ship.
Built in 2019, so MV Topaz Tangaroa is hardly an “old ship”. She’ll certainly be in service to meet what now appears to an urgent need far faster than anything that could be built.
As for the cost-effectiveness of buying an existing vessel, look at RFA Argus. Requisitioned in 1982, bought outright in 1984, and expected to still be in service past 2030.
I agree. I meant used rather than old, second-hand or preloved if you will. So why will the second MROSS be purpose built? That’s a genuine question.
I suspect the second MROSS will come with some additional capabilities that a COTS purchase can’t provide…
Perhaps depth charge racks or lightweight torpedo launch magazines? ??
Also lessons from their use.
So, MROSS(1) and MHC-OSV is there. Good news. Looking forward to see them in action.
The next topic will be (up to) four HMC-LSVs and MROSS(2).
She was built in Tulcia and towed to Bratvagg in Norway and fitted out. She never initially did any work for approx 18 months i.e. laid up. It was after this period that I was the site superintendent for the conversion works.
Island Crown was was designed by Ulstein (now Kongsberg) hence the UT 776 painted on the side, she was built by STX Brattvåg, now Vard Brattvåg.
Will the first LSV also be a second hand purchase I wonder?
Looks like an updated version of RFA DILIGENCE, who last time I looked was tied up in Portsmouth awaiting sale/disposal. She’s been there since 2016 after completing a refit. Another waste of taxpayers money!
You mean this existing RFA vessel not wanted while a similar vessel is bought for conversion?
being 40 years old might have something to do with it
Very different capabilities though, despite visual similarities.
Diligence was roled for maintenance/repair tasks for the surface, so while she has DP systems she doesn’t have the moonpool and other specialist facilities that make RFA Proteus ideal for subsea ops. Cutting a hole in the bottom of Diligence would only be the start of many conversions that would need to be made (assuming that the design could even cope with that kind of major change)- and likely be more expensive than this acquisition of a new vessel.
I wonder how much of Dilli’s role this could assume?
Although the tasking locations are rather different!
Honestly, I don’t know- a fair few of them at a guess as it’s a utilitarian design. But it’s what’s called an ROV-SV in the offshore industry, it’s pretty specialist due to the moonpool etc. and so would be a little wasted covering Diligence’s role. The other one that the RFA have bought for conversaion, without the subsea specialist bits, would be a better fit. Although landing a Chinook on it, which you can on Diligence apparently, might be a stretch!
Actually Dilly does have a moonpool.
Oh, my mistake, I didn’t think it did!
All good hopefully we can crew & hopefully at some point in the future learn from the lessons of operating these either modify further or ideally after some years of service get some purpose built & potentially slightly more multi purpose vessels.
But look good
I was the site superintendent for this vessel during its conversion in Norway and Holland.
It is a very advanced vessel and will be an asset ro our Navt.
Am pleased to see that the Government has actually acted quite quickly on this potentially serious matter, not only for the security of the UK, but for the economy too !!
Both these vessels appear capable of the jobs expected they have to carry out.
A pity that in other areas of Maritime security, speed of decision appears to constantly stuck in slow gear !!
Now this aspect of maritime protection was what first brought Rishi Sunak to political notice, as I recall.
So it makes sense at two levels to do this.
PM has his ‘big idea’ put into practice by MOD -> PM has but into defence stuff and will want to be briefed on ‘his idea’…..
‘what USV’s will my ship carry admiral?’
‘we should develop some PM to better execute your idea PM’
‘Yes we should admiral’
’excellent idea PM – admirably decisive thinking – if I may say so’
The other good reason is that it genuinely needs to be done ASAP as Mad Vad quite happy to blow pipelines and cut cables.
It’s beginning to dawn on me that MV is turning into quite the little hooligan. I should have anticipated, as that was apparently what folk thought of him when he was a kid.
Tangaroa was the polynesian god of the Sea, so good to see its renamed to the Greek sea god.
Was there any celtic sea gods ,like Tethra considered ?
Why not RFA Jacques Cousteau? The French will be cheesed off they didn’t think of it first, but can’t possibly complain that we named a ship after a French naval officer.
Wasnt his oceanographic missions partly funded by French secret agencies….you know perfect cover for their people to work alongside him on some situations,
I didn’t know that. Makes the name even more appropriate.
Yes, they were.
Just as the UK MI6 used the worldwide Anglican church as cover for some activities
I hope MI6 got their money’s worth back in the day, because now that the worldwide Anglican “church” is mostly run by a punch of poofs and Trots, I doubt it would be of much use to British intelligence. Or anyone else for that matter.
Island Crown is considerably smaller than the Topaz Tangaroa
Is this true?
Comparison of IS vs TT
Length 96.8 m vs 98.1m
Breadth 20.0 m vs 20m
DW 4.600 T vs 3000T
Fair point – amended
You have to wonder how much conversion will be involved. The vessel is Vard product and is listed as ‘Light Subsea Construction with intervention duties’. Topaz Tangaroa – VARD
It is pretty much designed for seabed work.
Damage. fire control and Comms will be upgraded for certain. Over and above that probably not much,
An aft AUV hangar perhaps?
Similar to this Ocean Infinity vessel: https://youtu.be/fqoGLuCup3g
Maybe but it’s guesswork right now. Good video thanks for the pointer.
You make that sound like 5 mins work.
There will also need to be magazine(s) with water misting systems and access etc even for the smaller stuff this will carry.
I don’t think it will be 5 mins at all. How much work it will require is beyond anyone without detailed design plans for her.
I would be surprised if at least initially she carries anything about rifle calibre, may be 50cal. For her roll even a 20mm (which is going out of service) would be overkill.
Comms, may be firefighting. These vessels tend to be diesel electric with the diesels in one compartment other than an emergency generator to keep the lights on once the engine room has caught fire.
Serious kudos to Navy Lookout for getting this exclusive rather than it coming out through MoD comms – particularly as this is something SoS has made something of a personal hobbyhorse and mentioned in public a number of times.
Well that is good to see real progress on these requirements. I do think however the RN needs another 2 – 3 MCM support vessels that can be deployed away from the UK. More of the same please with RN crews with supporting self defence weapons (couple of 30mm guns). The MROSS role is critical and perhaps a second off shore purchase may be a better and quicker way forward as purpose built tends to be rather costly when it’s really needed to take the kit it needs to the location. The kit has been around for years and readily available to purchase and get trained up on without to much effort as its used daily all over the World.
From the Defence Equipment Plan 2022 page 28:
The MHC programme is procuring up to 6
Mine Countermeasures (MCM) Maritime
Autonomous Mission Systems (MAS), up to 4
MCM (LSV) and a UK MCM (OSV) from the
The Mission Systems and LSVs will deliver a
global MCM effect, while the OSV will enable
UK offshore operations.
The UK OSV is scheduled to enter RFA
service in April 2023.
Looks like up to 4 LSVs (Logistics Support Vessels) are planed as well as the OSV (MV Island Crown above).
Lets hope that the list is fully purchased and we get the numbers listed. The LSV will be an interesting type (size for one and war fighting capability). Although (up to) 6 MCM MAS’s when we are giving up 12 vessels. Lets see if they not only provide more capability than that going out and what they cost to operate?.
Good that we are moving fast on this. We need to be ready for Nutkins next move.
Biden will be gone by Easter. I wouldn’t worry about him too much.
Nice. Although, it makes you think why the government gave the contract to build the Mersey Ferry to a Dutch shipyard instead of the Cammell Laid which is on the other side of the river to Mersey Ferry.
Perhaps Cammell Laird will be too busy with RFA conversions and T45 PIP work to take on a ferry build? The Dutch can do ferries like toothpaste from a tube…
Cammel Laird are probably struggling to do all the RN/RFA work they already have, so bidding for new ferry work would be too much for them to tke on?
All sounds good to me.
MV Island Crown now heading for Plymouth, ETA Monday.
got to get something quick to keep an eye on these sneaky russkies hanging around UK seabed sniffing around pipelines and cables.