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HMS Hecla ocean survey vessels

The 'Hecla' class vessels, with their Wasp Flight, were the most efficient and productive work-horses for world-wide operations that the RN Surveying Service ever possessed. In his Annual Report dated April 1972, the Hydrographer reports a particularly successful surveying season. The report showed that the Survey Fleet consisted of Hecate, Hecla and Hydra, all about six years old, of 2,800 tons, each with a total complement of 115, including 5 or 6 Assistant Surveyors and about 8 Surveying Recorders. They were employed, broadly speaking, in Home Waters; West Indies and the Far East respectively.

It seemed odd that the once greatest shipbuilding nation in the world cannot successfully build ships of this size which are not subject to recurring material troubles, for the Hydrographer reported that though producing a large volume of valuable work they are still beset by troubles with their bow doors, hydraulic davits and main propulsion systems which are proving resistant to remedy, although design improvements are in hand. An order has been placed for a fourth ship of this class with Messrs. Robb Caledon of Leith, to be completed by December 1973 and urgently required to replace Vidal, which, after 18 years of first class service in many parts of the world, paid off in $ September 1971 for disposal. The urgency of this can be appreciated when one considers the implications of the statement 1 above that the Surveying Service can no longer meet the increasing demands being made upon it, with the consequent necessity for placing survey work with contractors, which by implication means that insufficient naval or national resources were being pumped into the department to compete with its essential task.

As of 1995 there were six RN vessels available to the hydrographic service. There were three coastal survey vessels, HMS Bulldog, Beagle and Roebuck, the ocean survey vessels HMS Hecla and Herald and an inshore survey launcher, HMS Gleaner. HMS Hecla, taken out of service in December 1996, recalls the first Victoria Cross medal was awarded to midshipman Charles Davis Lucas for his heroic efforts onboard HMS Hecla in which he saved the crew and ship from an unexploded Russian shell on 21st June 1854.

An order valued in the region of 40 million has been placed with BAeSEMA to build an ocean survey vessel for the Royal Navy's hydrographic service. The new ship will be built by Appledore Shipbuilders Ltd. in Devon under sub-contract to BAeSEMA and will carry out systematic hydrographic surveys in the world's oceans, replacing the existing specialised vessel HMS Hecla. This order recognises the importance to the Royal Navy of a continuing specialist hydrographic capability and is part of the Government's plans to replace current hydrographic vessels and equipment as it becomes necessary, which were announced by the then Minister of State for Defence Procurement in the House on 8 March 1994. HMS Scott, the replacement for HMS Hecla, was under construction as part of the ongoing program to upgrade the capability of the hydrographic service. The hydrographic service also charters suitable commercial survey vessels which are used by RN survey teams in support of the civil hydrographic requirement.

As of March 2000 the existing Royal Navy Hydrographic Survey Squadron included HMS Herald, HMS Bulldog, HMS Beagle, and HMS Roebuck. The first three of these vessels were planned to leave service between mid 2001 and early 2002 with HMS Roebuck being maintained into 2003. To meet future requirements, the Navy planned to replace these ships with new, more capable, multi-role survey vessels, backed by a long-term in-service support contract. These new vessels will provide both hydrographic and oceanographic military surveying data, as well as a combat survey and mine warfare support capability. Balance of investment considerations, including the number of vessels to be acquired, were ongoing, as were contractual negotiations with the preferred bidder, Vosper Thornycroft.






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