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.