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AORL Type 704A Rhön class tanker

The Type 704A Rhön class tankers are replenishment oiler used by the German Navy to provide underway replenishment for its ships at sea. The convoy supply ships are used for operational deployment of units of the fleet at sea. Depending on the task, the individual units are specifically equipped and staffed for this purpose. Many units are built by former merchant ships or merchant marine standards. The equipment and the device is, however, adapted to the military due to circumstances.

Originally the ships were built for Libya as Okene (Rhön) and Okapi (Spessart). Rhön and Spessart are names of forests (small mountain ranges) in Germany. “Spessart” was built in the year 1974 for a civilian company by the Kröger Yard in Rendsburg, Germany. After modification “Spessart” was commissioned on September 5th 1977. From there she was part of the Auxiliary Squadron and stationed in Naval Base Kiel. The crew, consist of 12 officers and 34 seamen, are civilians. “Spessart” equipped with five replenishment stations two for solid and three for fuel transfer. During the whole time “Spessart” serve in several multinational/ national manoeuvres especially STANAVFORLANT/ SNMG 1, STANAVFORMED/ SNMG 2, DESEX, JMC/NW, OEF and OAE. “Spessart” was one of the ships of the first contingent in Operation Enduring Freedom and achieved knowledge about MIO and RMP.

In 2007 six NATO warships deployed on a circumnavigation of Africa. The ships of Standing NATO Maritime Group (SNMG) 1 were Portuguese frigate NRP Alvares Cabral (F331), Canadian frigate HMCS Toronto (FFH 333), guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60), German replenishment tanker FGS Spessart (A 1442), Dutch frigate HNLMS Evertsen (F805), and Danish corvette HDMS Olfert Fischer (F355). Normandy is flagship for SNMG-1, which was conducting NATO first maritime out-of-area deployment by circumnavigating Africa.

While in South African waters the NATO ships will take part in exercises with ships of the South African Navy. These exercises will include a series of seamanship and warfare serials which are designed to demonstrate the capability of NATO forces and the South African Navy to operate together, developing integration and operational skills. GS Spessart acted in support of SNMG1 throughout the deployment.

The German Replenishment Tanker FGS Spessart, part of Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 heading towards the Horn of Africa, was confronted by seven Somali pirates 29 March 2009 trying to get access to it. It appears that pirates mistook this tanker for a merchant oiler and wanted to hi-jack this vessel. The attack was averted by the on-board security detachment, who opened fire on the pirates. Soon ships from several allied navies – including Dutch, Greek, and Spanish frigates (respectively, HNLMS Zeven Provincien, the Hydra-class HS Psara, and the Santa Maria-class SPS Victoria) and the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Boxer – converged on the area while a Spanish plane and two AH-1 twin engine Cobra helicopters operated by United States Marines joined in the pursuit.

Five hours later, Greek sailors managed to stop and board their quarry and took custody of the pirates onboard and their weapons, which included automatic assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. The seven suspects were handed over the commander of Deutsche Marine’s F122 Bremen-class frigate FGS Rheinland-Pfalz. This episode was not without its comical aspect given that seven pirates in a wooden skiff were chased down on the high seas by of no fewer than five warships and three military aircraft while another naval vessel brought up the rear.

On 14 September 2010, EU NAVFOR Force Commander Rear-Admiral Philippe Coindreau visited another ship of Task Force 465: German tanker FGS RHOEN. EU NAVFOR Flagship DE GRASSE and FGS RHOEN had worked together previously in performing fuel replenishment at sea. An opportunity was taken for Force Commander to be winched on board FGS RHOEN by the FS DE GRASSE Lynx helicopter. Having visited the ship and met the crew, Rear-Admiral Coindreau highlighted again the value of tankers for EU NAVFOR warships and for the others forces operating in the region. “Our operational area in the Somali Basin may be compared in size to the United States, distances to cover are significant. Tankers are therefore valuable asset, enabling warships to last longer at sea”.

On 30 November 2010, the EU NAVFOR German ship FGS RHOEN conducted her last day of operations as an EU NAVFOR unit, after 102 days of counter-piracy activities in the Gulf of Aden and the Somali Basin. FGS RHOEN is a support warship who conducted a variety of tasks while deployed and performed 28 replenishments at sea. EU NAVFOR’s huge area of operations (the size being equivalent to 8 times the land mass of Germany) makes distances to cover by warships significant. Tankers are therefore a valuable asset, enabling warships to stay at sea on operations for longer periods.

While naval operational commitments have steadily grown, the funds for the ongoing fleet modernization were lacking during the peace dividend period. The consequences are painful. The fleet tankers of the German Navy are temporarily out of action. Reason: Age damage to the drive diesel. "This is another example of how urgent the modernization of the Navy is. And their financing," said Vice Admiral Andreas Krause, marine inspector, on 22 June 2018.

"We can not compensate for the failure of the tankers. The navy has become too small for that, "Krause explained. In any case, one of the three Einsatzgruppe providers could be considered as a substitute for the upcoming NATO commitment of the "Spessart" in the second half of 2018. However, they are all tied to Operation Sophia, NATO activity in the Aegean, or preparatory ice pack training. The Navy is therefore forced to withdraw the commitment to NATO .

NATO's permanent maritime task force SNMG 1 must first of all renounce German support. A repair of the two fuel transporters is not expected before the fourth quarter of 2018. Despite extensive findings of the engine, the exact cause of the damage remains unclear. As a first step, the Navy will therefore first repair the diesel engine of the "Spessart" and then investigate the causes of both ships more closely. Succession planning currently plans to continue operating "Rhön" and "Spessart" until 2024. Decisive for the long service life of the two tankers was and is the financial planning for the Bundeswehr. The condition of the two ships makes it likely that this will only be possible with increased financial and time expenditure.

As a competent classification society, Det Norske Veritas-Germanischer Lloyd (DNV GL) had withdrawn "Rhön" only in April and now in June "Spessart" due to damage to the main engine - a kind of TÜV certificate. As a result, the Bundeswehr's public-law supervisory authority, the Bundeswehr's supervisory authority for watercraft, ordered the two units to withdraw their so-called safety certification due to their insecure participation in maritime transport.

The two originally civilian tankers were launched in 1974 and 1977 put into service with the Federal Navy. The ships have only one drive shaft with a main drive, a twelve-cylinder diesel engine with 8,000 hp. The main engine of the "Spessart" was last repaired in January of this year, the ship had thereafter received a limited classification of DNV GL. The main engine of the "Rhön" was recently extensively repaired in the summer of 2017.

Displacement 14,169-14,260 tons full load
Dimensions 130.2 x 19.3 x 8.2 meters (427 x 63 x 27 feet)
Propulsion 1 diesel, 1 shaft, 5,880 kW 8,000 bhp
Speed 16 knots
Load capacity approximately 11,500 m³
Crew 42 civilian

NumberNameLaid DownComissionHomeportNotes
197423 Sep 1977Kiel
A1443Rhoen / Rhön
197405 Sep 1977Wilhelmshaven

AORL Type 704A Rhön class tanker AORL Type 704A Rhön class tanker AORL Type 704A Rhön class tanker AORL Type 704A Rhön class tanker AORL Type 704A Rhön class tanker AORL Type 704A Rhön class tanker

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Page last modified: 31-07-2019 18:43:33 ZULU