The UK Defence Journal has received concerning information from someone well placed that crews are being asked not to check faulty valves on Tide class vessels in case doing so makes the ship unavailable for tasking.

This article has been updated with a response from the Ministry of Defence.

The UK’s four new Tide Class Tankers are entering service with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary to supply Royal Navy warships, including the two new Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers.

On condition of anonymity, I was told:

“The fire main valves knackered. Seizing shut/open. This is the main firemain control valves as well as the individual hydrants. Serviceable valves have been scavenged from Tideforce to keep other Tide class ships operational.”

My source tells me that the RFA crew responsible for maintenance of the valves has been told “not to check them” as it could potentially stop the ship from carrying out tasking.

Our contact has stressed that he believes the RFA are by no means to blame for this, clearly emphasising “this is a build fault”.

Another naval source explained that there have been teething issues regarding parts for the Tides recently, especially regarding safety equipment on-board.

“I know when they first came over there was no supply chain in place for sometime as yes they were new but still having to take parts off others to keep Tidespring going.”

A third source from on-board one of the Tide class vessels confirmed that there had been equipment issues:

“When I joined we were delayed initially because the fuel bellows had split and there was a problem with the engine mounts. Whilst they was doing all this stuff they found exhaust emissions where there should not have been. The problem was found to be a crack in the funnel. They had a full inspection but rather than have a proper repair they did a botch job, and as I left the ship there was talk that it had split again. 

We had major problems with the AVCAT systems. When a sample was taken from the flight deck it was seriously contaminated, crew tried changing the hoses, a number of flush throughs but the fuel kept failing QC. It was perfectly clean fuel inside the ships tanks, but fucked up somewhere between there and the flight deck refuelling point.

The GPI is stuck showing the pilot to be too high when in perfect station, and no external power on the flight deck. This is why we failed SARC AIR. For the MMS fire the IPMS system showed the wrong engine room.

The ventilation system was different from Tidespring so all vents had to be manually shut, however some were impossible to shut as they seized. They had blokes with extension bars hanging off them and they still wouldn’t move.

To try and get through FOST the old man decided to cherry pick a duty watch that would be on duty for every exercise. A few crew felt pretty low about it. The captain piped that he made no apologies for picking the people he thought was best for the job. They still failed. There was a problem with the fire main, but I am pretty sure that’s why they went alongside in GUZ. The main problem is the training and the manning. I was led to believe that the FOST staff didn’t think the ship was ready but the old man pushed it.”

I’m told that no control over the fire main could prove disastrous in the event of a major fire. It is unclear at this time weather the automatic engine-room suppression systems are affected by this fault but I’m told it’s highly likely as the water mist system is cross fed from the main fireman supplied by the fire pumps.

Whilst the various types of portable extinguishers often form the front line of attack against a fire detected in its early stages, the fire main or one of the other fixed fire-fighting installations is used if a fire becomes established. The fire main extends to the full length of the ship and from the machinery spaces to the highest levels. Hydrants served by the main, are situated so that with suitable hoses any area on the ship can be reached.

I was also told by an engineer with experience in defence, science, and technology that this may not be as bad as it sounds, he told me:

“Ocean, Hurst Point and Illustrious also had teething issues with theirs. Ultimately corrected. There’s also redundancy in the system: At any one point there will be a valve or riser etc that isn’t working on a system that large and that’s factored in.

Contrived comparison with usual caveats: Think about the structure and infrastructure you’re sat in right now – what isn’t working? Many uninitiated would be concerned if they they just saw a list of what did and didn’t work or didn’t go so well on an engineering project without understanding context.”

An MoD spokesperson denied this was the case, saying:

“We routinely transfer equipment from one platform to another to address operational priorities. This process does not impact on the safe operation of our vessels.”

The MoD were also keen to stress:

“Our Naval platforms are required to meet dual certification standards – Naval Authority and Maritime & Coastguard Agency – and comply with Class rules.  All of our ships operate under the Maritime Certification statute, and none have been sent to sea in contravention of this.”

There have been maintenance issues similar to this one in the past, there was an incident in 2016 when the roll on, roll off cargo vessel Eddystone experienced an unintentional release of carbon dioxide from its fixed fire-extinguishing system while on passage in the Southern Red Sea. A similar incident took place on 17 July 2017 on board the roll on, roll off passenger ferry Red Eagle while on passage from the Isle of Wight to Southampton.

In both cases, the engine room distribution valve for the carbon dioxide gas remained closed and gas leaked out into the compartment where the carbon dioxide cylinders were stored. In both incidents, a Marine Accident Investigation Board report found the maintenance of the fire-extinguishing systems was found to be inadequate.

Let’s hope this isn’t as bad as it seems but if there’s any chance it’s true then it needs to be addressed as quickly as possible, let’s hope it’s already being sorted out.


  1. I’d like to see this confirmed officially before judging. But if true the yard responsible should be excluded from bidding for future work.

  2. These ships are BRAND NEW. Why are things seizing or breaking only months into service? Poor design or poor build? If it’s the latter, then I would hope the Koreans will be straight on it to rectify.
    Already we have ships being scavenged, not something I would have expected to happen until years into service.

    • Because that’s when things break, don’t work or go wrong. When things are new. The important thing is what they do about it. How they react and put things right. What lessons are learned and how is training and maintenance affected.

    • people should realise how important the r.f.a is to the royal navy ,whenever one of our carriers deploy, they will HAVE to have a substantial R.F.A presence. logistics are as important as warships, you can’t have one without the other. fuel tankers should be as fireproof as it is possible to make them

  3. So long story short.
    If we build ships in Britain they have problems.
    If we build ships overseas they also have problems.
    There really is no middle ground is there.
    Lets hops they get this all fixed nice and quickly before it breaks mainstream and the Daily Fail have a field day.

    • No confirmed source could be someone trying to create a media storm to try an influence public opinion and play politics. Unless this is officially acknowledged it nothing more than fake news. HMS Forth’s problems were acknowledge by BAe and the MoD.

      • On the subject of HMS Forth is it true that she has been alongside in Portsmouth for some months now and that rectification work is still in progress or has stalled? If that is the case then there is a scandal!! The remaining ships of the class are well on their way to practical completion-one wonders if the items on the Forth’s snag list are repeated on the others or have they been rectified in a better attention to detail during the build. One understands the need for not divulging too much information but there is as far as I know very little information about the Rivers 2 around.
        Would be nice to know how they are coming along..

        • “One understands the need for not divulging too much information” erm, *No* ,I would publicy lambast/embarrass the hell out of BAE. The only things these huge companies care about is their bottom line and prestige.

      • “Unless this is officially acknowledged it nothing more than fake news” – That’s not how this works.

        • I am presuming that until D Day was confirmed that was fake news too. This is getting a little too much like Schrödinger’s cat to me.

    • the u.k media, in terms of anything related to the armed forces,only what they can exaggerate and put a negative slant on, take the f-35,you would think that the u.k media would have been happier, if the sopwith camel had been brought back.

  4. Nothing particularly new here folks. New ships and old ships are always problematic. For new ships point the finger at the new build project team not correctly checking before handing over to operations (though most likely pressured to accept the vessel by the grown ups). Not sure how the comment ”no supply chain in place” comes about – supply chain is the market or should be unless the RFA are so choked in process/systems that they can’t just buy off the shelf when they need to. All these items should be warranty items as well so the yard has a responsibility to correct them.

  5. First off, nobody calls the captain ‘old man’, and if he was hand picking crew member’s for exercises, the FOST team would spot it a mile off, that is just not how a modern RFA works, they don’t try and wing it. Simple as that.

    • Unless the RFA is vastly different from the rest of the merchant navy – I don’t believe it is – pretty much everyone calls the captain ”the old man”.

      Sounds a bit weird I know but that is just the terminology used – especially weird if the old man is a woman. Clearly most old men are old women – but not sure if this works the other way around – if you get what I mean.

    • RFA captains are a law unto themselves, I would not put it past them to do this.
      This is one of the reasons the RFA has a manning problem, RFA Management and senior officers think they are in the navy but the RFA is not the RN, every member of the RFA are merchant seamen. They seem to forget that!
      And yes the captain will s always called the old man by the crew. You’ve never sailed on an rfa robert blay.

    • Robert Blay… First off, you dont seem to be aware that the RFA is not the Royal Navy despite what Sky News & other lazy journos tell you.

      Second, In the RFA and merchant navy, a ships captain is known as the old man & doesnt get called sir by non-officers. He is addressed as Captain but lets not split hairs as you seem to know better.

      • 40 years working in or for the Royal Navy and I can inform you that an RN Captain is often referred to as “the Skipper”, ” ‘kipper” or, as in in the RFA, “The Old Man”.

  6. Ships have problems, new or old, RFA crews are very very good at adapting to and overcoming mechanical and technical problems, Not having spares or shore support is a management issue and there will have been pressure from the grown ups to get the things working to show off their shiny new toys. These things will settle down when the ships are working. From my own experience with the RFA these problems will be sorted, they have the right people manning these things.

  7. Um. I wonder how much stuff was purchased from China or Brazil.

    This is why Ocean was ready to be sold on. She was full of cheap fittings: pumps, valves, motors…..

    Smacks of built down to a price.

    Not good.

  8. As with ALL new platforms there are bound to be problems, which will be fixed before the ships are declared operational. Unfortunately this “whistleblower” hasn’t got his facts correct. The faults described are not correct.
    Maybe a bit more support of the hard work everybody is putting into these ships instead of trying to tell tales would be more appropriate.
    Well done Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Keep up the good work.

  9. You can only expect to get what you pay for and if you buy cheap it generally costs you more in the long run.

    Type 31 build should be interesting, it would make far more sense to spend more and purchase a proven frigate design like the Iver Huitfeldt class.

    • The Type 31 build will be engineered well. There is finite element analysis for all aspects in design. Computer power and modelling is so good now.

  10. Just to place some response to the costs comments here – and claims that these vessels are ”on the cheap”…

    Worth checking the above to see newbuild tanker prices (that’s pretty much what the tide class vessels are – built to commercial standards we are led to believe).
    A commercial medium range (MR) product tanker – is around $40M USD. Given there are some extras in the specs of the Tide class – but for a vessel only sail way cost of around $145 USD…it does seem like this is a well funded project.

    • (Chrs H) Billythefish – So the implication of what you are saying is: “We paid full up price and still got cheap”

      If nothing else makes the case for building here in the UK then this does. The simple fact that build failures by BAE on the first OPV were spotted so quickly show that when built here we at least get some serious quality checking (if not control) and we get to hear about it.

      • Chris – Flaws in the OPV were spotted during trials, not at the yard responsible where they should have been. I do support build in the UK but I don’t support build here at any cost as it effectively a subsidy which will not ensure efficiency and productivity. UK industry needs to be world beating not reliant on overpriced government contracts.

        Perhaps these failings show that Korean workers believe they will always be supported by their government through subsidies so don’t need to build quality ships.

        • (Chris H) expat – As I said we at least have quality checking (as in trials) if not quality control (at the yard).

          And please define “I don’t support build here at any cost as it effectively a subsidy” because when you say ‘cost’ do you mean the initial bid price or the netted off cost? If we buy £250 Mn of ships from Korea we lose £250 Mn. if we buy £300 Mn of ships from the Uk some 40% (at least) is recycled back into the General economy and in taxation. My point being ‘Bid Price vs Bid Cost’.

          The UK will never be world beaters at shipbuilding as we have lost too many years, too many yards and we have developed a vastly different economy from 5 years ago. But we should at the very minimum be building OUR ships with OUR taxpayers money. Funding foreign jobs with our taxes grieves me enormously.

          • I don’t agree we can’t be world beating Cammell Laird won the Sir Richard Attenborough against foreign yards. The problem is unless our yards can compete an infill with foreign orders they’ll always be on the hook for taxpayer money. If you hand them a over priced order at 40% more than what industry would usually charge then if I was a foreign yard I would argue that’s a subsidy and have you excluded from potential tenders. We don’t build enough ships to prop up an industry from the defence budget. The fact that foreign yards still need subsidies shows subsides don’t work, they are basically paying to build a % of the ship and funding their inefficient working practices in the process instead of resolving them.

            I understand the concept of recycling the money but if the ship yard worker is going to then pop down to the BWM dealer then the money has left the country anyway.

            The perfect scenario is build here competitively, win foreign orders by doing this which offsets the BMWs and Samsung TV we import.

            The NShBS is task with rebuilding an industry not propping it up indefinitely. The moment a politician states these will be built in yard x the government loses the upper hand to negotiate reasonable price industry becomes sloppy knowing the work is guaranteed. Local MPs and press will cry broken promises if the work doesn’t go where it was said it would. We’ve been there before.

            I said it at the start of my rant Britain can be competitive, I work with business every day which are taking on the world and winning with not a whiff of a UK government contract. We should have a plan to make this work for ship building.

          • Expat. No. If UK yards can build the 3 FSSS ships at a fair realistic price with a fair profit that will mean investment in the facilities and people as part of the UK government condition. All of this can be modelled nowadays and there is not a hiding place for placing an over the top price, or indeed, a daft low price.

            Say the FSSS ships price is 1.1 billion pounds to build in the UK and we know that tax claw back from the prime contractor and UK suppliers (which can be 80% and higher especially is the UK government purchases themselves). So £880,000,000 is UK content, at 40% tax clawback will any foreign builder be able to build these ships for around £500m? If they can, they are subsidised! Is this just build or including design too?

            Say if the Consortia called let’s say: the Solid Support Alliance place a bid at 1.6 billion, as they know a Foreign bid at 1 billion with no tax claw back of a known 40% would come out to this, is that fair? Are car industries up against this. It is a different industry.

            People who buy BMWs are not taking tax back, are they, as they are not the tax taker of NO. 11? But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater here. Buying German cars in huge numbers as we do is not great for our deficit too. Also importing most items for Vauxhalls built in Britain of around 70% is not good either.

            As someone said in the comments. Building ships are not like building cars.

            The Irony is, we can be very competitive in shipbuilding given the vision and desire. It is there.

        • the flaw in the rivers is, that the m.o.d knew they were buying large, corvette size ship and not really knowing what they were getting, these ships are a total cock up the latest sigma corvette(and classed as a warship) is 10 meters longer, has 20 more crew, is 8 knots faster, and comes with a 76mm main gun, two triple tube torpedo system,two, quad anti air missile launchers,exocet. if this was done to the rivers we’d be 9 ships better off, plus, they’re already built. if the sigma layout was applied to our river classes,they could even be designated ‘light frigates(type 31’s???)’s? ) and they’d be u.k built)

  11. I’ve worked on a couple of Korean built vessels and quality of some parts where suspect. Also the anti corrosion coatings where terrible

  12. I thought foreign shipbuilding was completely flawless? That’s what some would have you believe so desperate are they to worship anything foreign and attack anything British.

    This merely strengthens the case to build taxpayer funded R.F.A. ships here in Britain.

    • To be quite honest having sailed in vessels built all over the world – including in the UK – it’s not really the country of build that matters – so much as the yard. There are some very good Chinese yards, some very good Korean yards. UK yards are mostly better – but not perfect by any means.
      Regardless – you will inevitably face warranty item issues (ie items that are found and are to rectified in the ”warranty” period – usually 12 months after accepting the vessel). The above are warranty items and will be rectified.
      Ship building is not car manufacturing – it is not a continuous production line – it is a batch or project based process and that involves some higher possibility for QA issues.

    • the treasury wouldn’t want anything to do with that, we have yards like yarrow, harland wolff who would love the contracts to build ships for the R.F.A but the government has b.linkers on when it comes anything that is not from a clyde yard, or BAE.

  13. complex ships will always have initial problems, especially a new design. the difference nowadays is that social media is completely unchecked as to what is reported. I totally agree that one must wait until there is some form of confirmation. It is interesting to note that the P&O class submarines had significant teething problems, questions were asked in the House, yet they went on to be one of the most successful class of submarines ever put onto service, however at the time all the public knew was what the government reported in the papers which was non existent. Too much social media?

    • Good point about too much social media-it has brought great benefit to mankind but also much harm and is wide open to mischief making. The progress of the F 35 is a good case in point. This aircraft was vilified on social media and in the press on an unprecedented scale much of the criticism being unfounded and indeed malicious, but it would appear that it is maturing in to a potent weapons system and its experience has been not much different from that of other modern aircraft-Typhoon, F 22, Rafaele, etc.. I have never been a conspiracy theorist but I am absolutely sure that Russia has and is interfering in the fabric of Western democracy on a massive scale- the Orwellian denials put out by the Kremlin on a whole range of subjects-doping, chemical attacks, meddling in elections etc. are ironically the best evidence of this reality

        • Wasn’t the entire class built in a South Korean shipyard, Daewoo, I think? Then there is no telling where components came from. I would have thought RN inspectors would have checked on things from time to time, in S. Korea.

  14. There seems to be several issues here which I hope is not the case these vessels and the follow-on three MARS are badly needed for the carrier battle groups.
    If I understand the article correctly it appears that there is a major problem in the fire suppression system and the usage of valves. If that is the case I cannot imagine that FOST will pass the vessel for operations. They are normally very though on that area especially with a vessel that will carry aviation fuel.
    As for the valves, I wonder what type of material they are made from, the reason I am questioning this is that if I remember correctly the Chinese had issues with marine brass. They could not quite get it right and many of there valves would stick or seize. Also it is a much more expensive material, I know my regulators are marine brass three time more expensive than normal regs.
    The author also says that there were issues with the engine mounts, if that is or was the case then there could have been excessive vibration, this could have knocked the fire system out of alignment, causing the valves to stick.
    Either way as I said I hope this article is not correct and that it is only someone trying to make the case for the MARS to be built here in the UK. As for building RFA vessels overseas, as much as I would like to see them built here I can understand why they might be built in Japan or Korea, however, if we do that again we need an onsite quality control team to make sure that every part is up to scratch before we take delivery.

    • Why do you understand why these ships should be built in Japan or Korea? Wages? Japans are higher than the UK and South Korea not far behind. Build quality higher than ours? Speed? They have taken over 6 years to deliver. So what is it? Price? They are more expensive to build abroad than in the UK are far better value for the UK taxpayer as the UK taxpayer get much back in tax! There is no logic at all to building these ships abroad apart from vested interests.

  15. I cannot remember if the RFA vessels use UMMS as the maintenance management system. Its the system in use on the RN vessels…I will have to check next time on on one.
    If UMMS is in use you cannot defer or not check equipment. Any safety items or mandatory items must be completed and digitally signed for when due maintenance. If you dont do the maintenance it is Flagged as incomplete and out of date. The onboard maintenance manager will receive a notification of out of date Safety Maintenance. In addition UMMS uploads via satcom to the shore side maintenance authority on a daily basis. If you miss anything they know as well.

    So nowadays ignoring or signing for maintenance when its not done leaves you wide open for sanction. The days of ” sharp pencil….clear conscience” and signing your name as M.Mouse or D. Duck or well gone.

  16. Fire mains are needed, the majority of incidents are non combat fires, collisions, groundings all things that have fire related issues, primary and secondary. Huge strides have been taken to improve the resilience of fire mains for combat situations, however there will always be failures just as there is in power distribution or even fuel management, one can never make each system completely damage proof. The 1986 fire in the forward gear room of hms Illustrious lasted seven hours and nearly lost the ship, the halon drench was not successful due to the explosion damage, hence the use of fite fighting teams using the fire main probably saved the ship.


  17. “BUILD FAULT” wtf! I know South Korea pumps cheap ships out like there’s no tomorrow but surely they have quality in Mind!.. Anyway if these valves ect are fixed then we should buy atleast 2 more of these ships for the RFA because the Royal Navy did say they needed atleast 12 replenishment ships minimum, but are getting 4 tide class and 3 other solid suport ships, and the 3 other hopefully will be built in the UK, but 2 more of these ships built in SK for just over 110million each is a total bargain!. 450 million for 4 ships is great and atleast 140 million is spent in the UK and most of the high tech equipment and systems are put on in the UK. We should have atleast 6 tide class tankers bit 4, they are cheap enough so let’s get 2 more ordered in South Korea. But let’s build the 3 bigger solid support shops in the UK the way we built the Carriers in modules in a few yards, we have the yards and infrastructure to do it (if they don’t sell the big blue crane in Scotland first) And when the 3 solid support ships are built maybe we could build 2 more bringing the number to 11 not far what the Royal Navy wants and needs, 7 is a joke and we will be relying on a NATO supply ships if we don’t build our own, we are a rich country and can afford a navy 5x our current size but our government wants to keep downsizing to save Money! Even South Korea has a navy/ millitary allot bigger than ours abc our economy is far bigger than theirs! Japan also has a navy/ millitary far bigger than Britains! It’s a joke and we need to sort it out! More frigates and destroyers/ submarines are needed…..

    • Sorry mate, but you are completely wrong. It was no bargain at all. 452 million pounds back in 2012 has become 550 million pounds due to the pound’s fall (not due to BREXIT but the recession despite being in eu. That was just for the shipbuild bit with no tax back. Say the clawback is just 30%, you take 550 million pounds to divide by 70% then multiply by 100% you have ships of around 785 million pound just for the ship build bit. This is one of the worst deals done and cost our own UK shipbuilding sector which totally undermined them and demoralized them too for what are very expensive ships built by a supposedly cheaper and quicker shipbuilding Country.


  18. I think you might be overlooking the Wave class. There are rumours of them being sold, but several sources are also saying that they will remain.

    I agree that more Waves would be nice (even their smaller variant), but you need to remember the manpower issue. Currently, three of the RFA supply ships are laid up due to manpower/cash issues – including both of the older Fort Class. (I believe one has been moved for maintenance, but it has still been laid up for the past few months).

    Even with an enlarged RFA, we need to man it.

  19. For God’s sake, I have been told by former VT’s the work practices of far east builders. Small tubes bent around knees etc and worse. This does happen! You get what you pay for in face price in which is a huge price as there is no tax back! Buy foreign and lose. Those MARS tankers are a scandal! Britain at the moment is acting like the stupidest Western Country in the World! There was never any value for the UK Tax Payer only vested interests like bent, bae and others… Come on people!

    • Agree completely, France, Germany, Italy, etc. would never do this. British shipbuilding needs taxpayer funded ships to have a steady stream of work otherwise it will never be worthwhile to invest in new facilities and equipment and British shipbuilding will never be efficient, cost effective and competitive. Also it keeps our own people in highly skilled, well paid jobs, keeps our own industries alive and keeps the money in our country.

  20. So. By buying from abroad we have learnt this. Due to eu rules that weak UK subservient governments and vested interests abide by. They (UK government) feel that rather giving a contract to a UK shipbuilder which would cause the rath of this eu empire, they do not want to give a to an expensive eu shipyard, so go to a on the face of it, a non eu empire Country with a low bid, which is not low at all. These MARs ships cost a fortune and the UK would have built them cheaper, that would have led to an invigorated Uk shipbuilding sector, that this eu empire does not want to see!

    What have we learnt? Foreign builders are not any better and in most cases poorer in quality over the many years of experience. They are not any quicker in the building as seen with the huge delays in the simplistic (not complex) MARS tankers that should have been built in the UK as first envisioned before eu rules changed the policy in Britain from a UK Industry/MOD alliance to this international competition farce!

    We as the UK, have paid a huge price from every angle!

  21. These valves are not too expensive considering and available on a short turnaround. Wouldn’t need to strip the other vessels even if they didn’t have a spares list.

  22. So like the leaky QE the MoD are saying this is not a significant issue. Unlike HMS Forth which both BAe and the MoD acknowledged as serious quality flaws.


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