The first of the UK’s two new ships to protect key underwater infrastructure arrived on Merseyside last week to begin preparing for front-line duties. The ship will be ready within six months’ time.

The distinctive blue-white offshore support vessel Topaz Tangaroa arrived at the Cammell Laird yard in Birkenhead. It will become the UK’s first ship dedicated to safeguarding vital seabed telecommunications cables and oil and gas pipelines.

Military equipment will be installed and the ship painted grey before the ship – the first of two planned Multi-Role Oceanographic Survey (MROS) vessels – begins training with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ready for its first front-line operations this summer.

Announced by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace in November 2022, the accelerated acquisition of this MROS vessel is considered vital to the UK’s national security.

‘The first of two dedicated subsea surveillance ships will join the fleet this summer, bolstering our capabilities and security against threats posed now and into the future,’ says Wallace. ‘It is paramount at a time when we face Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, that we prioritise capabilities that will protect our critical national infrastructure.’

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Topaz Tangaroa

The Royal Navy scoured the world for a vessel that would meet its requirements and selected the Topaz Tangaroa.

It was built in Norway four years ago to support a mix of underwater operations such as work on oil/gas rigs, construction, maintenance and inspection work, as well as survey and remotely-operated vehicle/autonomous submarine operations, making it ideal for underwater surveillance and seabed warfare.

The 6000-tonne vessel, which is equipped with a helipad, crane, and expansive working deck of 1000 m2 has most recently been operating in the Pacific on underwater construction projects. The ship also features a moon pool, a large access point in the bottom of the hull through which robot submersibles can be launched.

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RFA sailors

The vessel, whose new military name is still to be announced, will be crewed by around two dozen Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) sailors, plus up to sixty Royal Navy specialists will operate the undersea surveillance systems and other survey and warfare systems when embarked.

‘This is an entirely new mission for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary – and one we relish,’ says Commodore David Eagles RFA, the head of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. ‘We have been entrusted with supporting a key operation to safeguard the UK’s infrastructure, security and prosperity and that fills all of us in the RFA with pride. These are really exciting times.’