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River Class Patrol Vessels: FOPV

The three Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV) are employed in the Fishery Protection role primarily, with the capacity to operate in other areas. The Fishery Protection Role includes undertaking patrols in English, Welsh and Northern Ireland waters enforcing UK and EU fisheries legislation. Two man teams conduct boardings of fishing vessels inspecting net sizes, weight of catches, fish sizes, composure of catches and the vessel's logbook and licence.

Subject to the satisfactory outcome of detailed discussions with the preferred bidder, Vosper Thornycroft (UK) Ltd., by April 2001 the Ministry of Defence expected to be in a position to place a contract for the lease of three future Offshore Patrol Vessels to progressively replace the Island Class vessels from September 2002. Because of their higher availability, the three replacement FOPVs will provide identical fishery protection patrol frequency and duration to that which is currently carried out by the five Island Class vessels.

The River Class were built by Vosper Thorneycroft (UK) Ltd (VT) in Southampton under an innovative arrangement. The ships are leased to the Royal Navy under a five-year agreement which includes VT taking responsibility for maintenance and support during the period. This is the first time the Royal Navy has procured ships under such an agreement. At the end of the time, the MoD can either extend the charter, purchase outright or return the ships to VT. The flexibility and efficiency of this VT design enabled the Navy to replace five Island Class Patrol Vessels with the three River Class vessels.

The Ministry of Defence has procured the 80 metre ships on a long-term charter agreement that will see them initially leased from VT for a period of five years. At the end of that time, the lease can be extended; the ships can be purchased outright or handed back to VT. VT is hoping that HMS Mersey will be the prelude to further orders for the River Class with a possible requirement for up to two more ships. "The ships have also attracted plenty of interest from overseas and we recently submitted a bid to build similar vessels for the Royal New Zealand Navy," said VT Shipbuilding Managing Director Peter McIntosh.

In operational terms, one of the major innovations is a large working cargo deck that allows the ships to be equipped with specific facilities for a particular role, such as disaster relief, anti-pollution, fire fighting, rescue work or interception of other vessels. A heavy crane with capacity for 25 tonnes is therefore fitted to handle standard containers. This working deck is also large enough to permit the transport of smaller craft such as oil spill recovery tractors, an LCVP (a landing craft for transhipment of cargo inland by river) and a variety of wheeled and tracked light vehicles.

The River Class utilises a double chine hull form and provides an improved seakeeping performance compared to the Island Class, which they replace, and a much higher grade of accommodation. Modular cabins pre-fabricated and outfitted by VT are single or two-berth and have en-suite facilities. The ships carry two VT Halmatic Pacific 22 MkII boarding and rescue boats with dedicated single-man operation davits and RIB tracking systems.

The three River class vessels which replaced the six Island class vessels in 2003-04, were leased by MOD to provide the majority of Fishery Protection duties for DEFRA. The Rivers, like the Island class before, are contracted to provide 70 per cent. of the total annual patrol day requirement. The Rivers provide on average 190 to 230 patrol days each year. Their design, their equipment and their crewing is geared to provide a first class fisheries enforcement service in UK and International waters at anytime of the year.

Between 1997 and 2006 there was an annual average of 981 days provided by about 10 different vessels-Hunt class, Island class and River class. Under the new contract, which begins in April 2008, only three River class offshore patrol vessels have been contracted to provide 700 patrol days in 2008-09, potentially reducing to just 600 patrol days in two years' time. By comparison, in 2007, the three River class vessels provided 620 days, complemented by the further 225 patrol days provided by the other five Hunt class vessels. Moreover, there were some 41 days when there were no River class vessels on task, and a davit fault resulted in all of them being recalled for five of those days-from 15 to 19 June. Should that happen again, no enforcement vessels will be available at all, and no fisheries policies are workable without adequate enforcement.

The River class vessels are much faster vessels than the older Hunts (18yrs plus), with a maximum speed of 22knts compared to a maximum of 15knts on the Hunts and they are able to stay at sea for longer periods. Rivers currently carry out 12 day patrols followed by a two day stand-off whereas the Hunts carry out seven to eight day patrols followed by a two day stand-off. The River class vessels are equipped and manned to be able to routinely deploy two sea-boats to carry out simultaneous inspections whereas the Hunts are equipped to use one sea-boat. They do exceptionally use two sea-boats if weather and crewing permit. Rivers have a higher complement of qualified British Sea Fisheries Officers (BSFOs), carrying an average of four at all times whereas the Hunts carry an average of three qualified BSFOs.

Under the new Fisheries Protection Agreement between the MOD and DEFRA, which began on 1 April 2008, the River Class Offshore Patrol Vessels will be available for a total of 700 days during the first 12 months of the agreement. Thereafter, their availability will be between 650 and 750 days in each year. Each River class vessel will also undergo two planned routine maintenance periods each year: one of nine days duration and one of 16 days duration. The Hunt Class Mine Countermeasure vessels will also provide additional Fishery Protection duties, as and when required, although they will not be contracted to provide a set number of days.

By 2004 the RN Fishery Protection Squadron had three River Class patrol vessels and three Hunt Class MCMVs allocated to Fishery Protection duty, although the number of ships actually on patrol at any given time will depend on the level of fishing activity. Other RN ships can also be called upon to carry out Fishery Protection duties if so required. The RN Fishery Protection Squadron patrols the areas within the British Fishery Limits around the English, Welsh, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man and Channel Island coasts. The RN also inspects British fishing vessels in international waters. The Scottish Fishery Protection Agency is responsible for patrolling the waters off the Scottish coast.

On 31 October 2017 the Royal Navy's Batch 1 River-class offshore patrol ship (OPV) HMS Severn was decommissioned at a ceremony in HM Naval Base Portsmouth following 14 years of service. HMS Severn had reached the end of its planned service life after being commissioned into the fleet in 2003.

In April 2018 it was announced that both Batch 1 and Batch 2 ships would stay in service, except for one of the old ships, HMS Severn, which had already been decommissioned in 2017. both Batch 1 and Batch 2 ships will now stay in service, except for one of the old ships, HMS Severn, which had already been decommissioned last year.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson secured the protection of British home waters by announcing 22 November 2018 he will retain three of the Royal Navy’s patrol ships. The future of the Batch 1 Offshore Patrols Vessels (OPVs), HMS Tyne, HMS Mersey and HMS Severn [????], which currently supported the Fishery Protection Squadron, was secured by the Defence Secretary.

They will be retained for at least the next two years to bolster the UK’s ability to protect the British fishing fleet as well as British shores. The Royal Navy provided around 200 days of fishery protection a year. The Defence Secretary’s announcement meant that the Royal Navy would now have the capacity to deliver up to 600 days of fishery protection a year if needed.

Williamson announced that each ship will forward-operate from their namesake rivers – from Newcastle, Liverpool and the Cardiff area respectively – to boost rapid responses in British waters up and down the nation. The versatile ships are also vital to the Royal Navy’s anti-smuggling and counter-terrorism work, and frequently escort foreign vessels, including those from Russia, through the English Channel.

Speaking on board patrol vessel HMS Tyne, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: "Britain’s patrol vessels are essential to protecting our waters, our fisheries and our national security. Safeguarding the future of these three ships in the Royal Navy will ensure we can respond quickly to incidents at any time, further protecting our waters as we exit the EU. By forward-operating these ships from their affiliated locations across the country, including the Tyne, it will not only allow them to react quickly, but also strengthen the bonds between the Royal Navy and local communities."

HMS Severn returned to operational status in June 2020 after being axed from the navy in October 2017. This was the first time in living memory that the Royal Navy has re-commissioned a ship. The Portsmouth-based offshore patrol ship was saved from the scrapyard by former defence secretary Gavin Williamson in November 2018, alongside two of her sister ships. The vessels will all bolster Britain’s ability to patrol UK waters after Brexit, while the more advanced batch two patrol ships are based on long-term missions overseas.

Offshore Patrol Vessel (Helicopter)

In February 2005 the Ministry of Defence approved the award of a contract with VT Maritime Affairs Ltd for the charter and logistic support of a new 1,854 tonne patrol vessel for use in the Falkland Islands. The new ship is a modification of the highly-successful River class ships, also chartered from VT, currently employed for fishery protection. Like them, the new patrol vessel will also follow an innovative public/private partnership arrangement for the provision of maritime capability. While manned by the Royal Navy, the department will pay a set monthly fee for the provision of the ship and a guaranteed level of availability, with an incentivised payment structure to ensure that any shortfalls are dealt with promptly and effectively.

The vessel is an enhanced version of the River-class patrol vessel currently deployed in a fisheries protection role in UK territorial waters, with the main difference being a flight deck capable of accepting a Merlin helicopter. A 30mm gun and an air/surface surveillance radar are also being fitted to the vessel specifically for the South Atlantic patrol role.

The vessel will thus provide a significant increase in availability compared with the old, and increasingly difficult to maintain, Castle class ships that had provided the Falkland Islands patrol capability for the past two decades. It is planned that the ship was to enter service in 2007, and be chartered for an initial period up to 2012. Over this period, she will generate in excess of £2 million savings compared with continuing to run the old ships, while providing at least as good an overall capability at a much lower level of risk.

Unlike the existing Castle-class ship which has to return to the UK every three years formajor repairs, HMS Clyde will be able to remain deployed in the South Atlantic until atleast 2012. The vessel will initially be operated during this period under charter from theVT Group who will remain responsible for support and maintenance of the ship. The MOD will, however, retain the option of extending the charter when it comes up forrenewal in 2012, purchasing the vessel outright or returning it to VT. HMS Clyde was launched in September 2006, began sea trials in December 2006 andformally entered service in February 2007. It is expected to be deployed in the SouthAtlantic in summer 2007.

HMS Clyde is a River Class Offshore Patrol Vessel (Helicopter) (OPV(H)). Her design is closely based on that of the 3 River Class Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs), HMS Tyne, Severn and Mersey, which operate around the United Kingdom conducting fishery protection operations. Clyde entered service in 2007 under a Private Finance Initiative, and is leased and operated by the RN, while BVT Surface Fleet provides maintenance and logistical support. Designed to replace the Castle Class OPV(H) HMS Leeds Castle and HMS Dumbarton Castle, Clyde's greater reliability and more modern design will enable her to remain on task in the South Atlantic until 2012 and beyond.

Weighing in at 1,847 tonnes, the new OPV has a crew of 41 and is permanently stationed in the South Atlantic as the Falkland Islands Patrol Vessel (FIPV). Her role in and around the Falkland Islands is to maintain an overt maritime presence, patrolling territorial seas, airspace and beyond. She also conducts routine patrols of the other South Atlantic Overseas Territories including South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. On a day to day basis she regularly sends small parties to visit the local population in the more remote areas of the Falkland Islands, providing reassurance and presence as part of her ongoing deterrence role.

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