The sale of HMS Ocean to Brazil’s navy is one more British hull that is going to serve under the Brazilian flag, joining her sisters that are already part of that naval force.
After growing speculation both in Brazil and in Britain, it has been confirmed that the British helicopter carrier HMS Ocean is being sold to Brazil for roughly £84 million. Following her decommissioning from the Royal Navy in Spring 2018, she will undertake some months of maintenance in Britain and is set to leave to Rio de Janeiro by the end of the same year to be commissioned and fully operational under Brazilian command by 2020.
The ship will join ranks with other former British hulls, for the whole of the Brazilian Navy (BN) eight-strong frigate force is formed by former British vessels or designed and built by a British shipyard to be sold overseas. Two Type 22 frigates are in active service in the BN, former HMS Battleaxe and HMS Broadsword. Other Type 22, HMS Brilliant and HMS Brazen were also sold to Brazil in the 1990s and decommissioned in 2012 and 2015 respectively, and HMS Brazen being sunk as a target in July 2017 during Operation Missilex 2017 carried out by the Brazilian Navy.
The remaining six frigates in active service were built and designed by the British shipyard Vosper Thorneycroft (VT) in the 1970s. Named Niterói class, the ships were the largest of many ships constructed by VT for both the Royal Navy and foreign buyers. The six ships were divided into two categories: four vessels would be for Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) and two for General Purpose (GP). Two of the ASW and both GP hulls would be built in the UK and the remaining ASW were constructed in Brazil with close assistance from VT. Eventually, a seventh ship was made to become the Brazilian Navy’s primary training unit, not fitted with sensors or weapons; named simply as ‘Brasil’, the ship receives officers in training from the Merchant Marine and Brazilian Naval Academies.
The central amphibious capabilities of the BN relies on four vessels: one former Newport-class tank landing ship bought from the United States in 2000, one French Foundre-class landing platform dock that was sold to Brazil in 2015 for €80 million; a value that includes spare parts, missile launchers for the Mistral missile, landing craft and training. She currently serves in the BN as a multipurpose amphibious ship.
The other two ships are the British Round Table-class, also known as the Sir Lancelot-class, designated as landing ship logistics (LSL) seven were built for Britain and served under the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA), and one more hull was ordered for the Royal Australian Navy. RFA Sir Galahad was one of the many ships of the RFA that saw service in the Falklands War. On the 8 June 1982, Sir Galahad was preparing to unload personnel from the Welsh Guards in Port Pleasant, alongside RFA Sir Tristram, when she was attacked by three A-4 Skyhawks, the ship was hit by two or three bombs and set alight. In one of the worst setbacks of the war for the UK, 48 crewman and soldiers lost their lives. A replacement entered service in 1988, carrying the same pennant number and name, this was one of the ships that were subsequently sold to the Brazilian Navy in 2007; the other was Sir Bedivere, the first ship of the class.
When it comes to the patrol vessels responsible for the security and maritime law enforcement tasks of the Brazilian coastline and large rivers so characteristic of the country – the Amazon River, for example – Britain recently supplied Brazil with the Amazonas-class Offshore patrol vessel (OPV), also regarded as ‘Light Corvette’. The Amazonas-class has initially been set to be part of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force when the contract was cancelled by the Trinidad and Tobago government in 2010 the vessels were acquired by the Brazilian Navy in 2012.
Ordered initially from Vosper Thorneycroft, its shipbuilding arm merged with BAE Systems in 2008, and it eventually sold the ships to Brazil. The sale for £133 million of three ships , based on the River-class OPV serving in the Royal Navy, was confirmed in January 2012 and the first ship was commissioned into the Brazilian Navy on 29 June in Portsmouth. With more than 2,000 tones the vessels are the country’s largest hulls responsible for coastal patrol amongst the 34 vessels that carry the same duty.
The British presence in the ranks of the Brazilian Navy also includes the River-class Minesweeper built for the Royal Navy in the 1980s. Eleven of these ships were designated to various Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) in the UK and HMS Blackwater entered service with the Royal Navy. Following defence cuts, when the role of the RNR was under review, the entire class was withdrawn from RNR service in 1993. Subsequently, four ships were assigned to the Northern Ireland Squadron, for patrol of waterways and future support to the British Army. Eventually, the entire River-class of minesweepers were sold to the navies of Brazil, Bangladesh and Guyana. In 1998 Brazil acquired seven vessels, and four are in active service as part of the patrol fleet. The other three were fitted out to accommodate the Brazilian Navy’s desire for Oceanographic research vessels; currently, the sister ships are in active service fulfilling that wish.
As a result, roughly 20 vessels of the Brazilian Navy served under British flag or were designed by Britain and sold to Brazil afterwards. HMS Ocean is set to join a twenty-strong fleet of British ships under the Brazilian colours and might serve well the Brazilian demands in the next decades. She will replace a quickly ageing French aircraft carrier, now known as São Paulo. This aircraft carrier is an old Clemenceau-class, built by the French in the 1950s and purchased by Brazil in 2000. Nevertheless, since 2004, when an explosion and subsequent fire broke onboard, the São Paulo has been suffering from technical issues and has never managed to operate appropriately for prolonged periods. According to the Brazilian Navy, she was demobilised in February 2017, and her decommissioning is due to increasing costs of further repairs.
The relations between Brazil and the UK are friendly and longstanding. The only sensitive matter is the Argentine claims over Falklands, South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands that the Brazilian government officially supports. Despite that, Brazil has been a British partner in many aspects; when its navy needs replacements, Britain’s Royal Navy and know-how is always put in high esteem, the purchase of HMS Ocean exemplifies the Brazilian appreciation of British naval assets and displays the defence links that the two countries have.
Furthermore, even officially supporting Argentina, Brazil is a friendly nation in South America that is willing to co-operate with Britain in many diplomatic and commercial issues – including a future trade agreement – going beyond the Argentine territorial claims. Signalling that the future relations between Brazil and Britain have a unique potential to be a source of positive prospects for both nations.