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The conversion of MV ASTRONOMER to RFA RELIANT was completed ahead of schedule on 16 November 1983, when the new 23,000 DW tonnes Forward Support Ship was formally taken into the RFA Service. The new RFA RELIANT is the first British merchant ship to be converted into a Helicopter Support Ship using the United States Navy ARAPAHO System. This system, which has been leased by the Ministry of Defence from the Americans takes its name from the nomadic Arapaho Indian 'llibe who carried all their possessions on their backs. The conversion of MV ASTRONOMER to her new role as RFA RELIANT was overseen by Mr .Brian Davies TS, in co-operation with the naval division of British Aerospace Dynamics Group and staff of the Principal Naval Overseer, Birkenhead. In addition to fitting the flight deck and hangar complex, Cammell Laird also installed accommodation aft

RFA RELIANT JOINS THE FLEET known as 'the Village' for RN personnel and a block known as 'the Hilton' to house Royal Fleet Auxiliary personnel. The container modules which comprise 'the Village' came completely fitted out and ready for installation. Other work carried out by Cammell Laird included provision of storage tanks for fuel and pumping machinery which involved extensive additional electricaL ventilation and pipework systems. Several levels of containers for the carriage of stores, together with lift

facilities, were also provided along with fresh water storage tanks. a distillation plant and a sewage treatment plant. Finally a military radio room was added. together with facilities for the control of helicopter operations. an extension to the wheelhouse. the provision of extra container units for ballast. the fitting of satellite communication aerials and the installation of additional lifeboats. To provide power for all the equipment installed, two generators and an auxiliary switchboard were fitted. The ship was also equipped for Replenishment at Sea with facilities provided for both fuel and stores transfer.

RENAMING CEREMONY The renaming ceremony was held at Messrs Cammell Laird of Birkenhead and performed by Mr A Kemp DST(SF). Also in attendance were Captain RM Thorn RFA Mr D P Miles DDCMS, Mr GM Wilson AD7 4. Mr. R G Algar OBE AD73. Mr NE Davies SSTO 73A Mr DK Young STO 74D, Commodore JGM CoulL CaptainS Redmond OBE, MS (NC&E). MrMG DawSTP(N), MrEC Watt AD 11, Harrison Directors Mr PMA

Garden and Mr MJT Hunton. Cammell Lairds Managing Director Mr. AO Lambie and many other representatives from the RFA Service. Harrisons. Cammell Lairds. the Royal Navy. other concerned parties and of course the press. In his address to the guests gathered for the naming ceremony, Mr A Kemp. remarked on the close parallels between the new RFA RELIANT and the previous ship to bear that name. He recalled her arrival at Singapore when she was still the MV SOMERSBY and his own subsequent service in the ship East of Suez and in the Mediterranean. He also remarked that her first RFA navigating officer was now the first Captain of the new RFA

their great co-operation. He also thanked those who were now about to make the project come to life: the Naval Team who would be operating in most unusual surroundings; the RNSTS partY who would handle the stores and equipment and his own RFA team. led by Captain Dick Thorn. who had never before faced so diverse a task. Mr Kemp concluded his speech by telling those who would sail in the ship that they were taking part in a new and exciting venture which marked another step in the close co-operation betWeen the Royal Navy and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service. Subsequent events were soon to prove the accuracy of this statement.

Mr A Kemp Dsr (SF) tormally renames RFA RELIANT with Captain R. M. Thorn. RELIANT. Captain Dick Thorn. The 'Yacht', as she was known. had a proud record of 19 years service as an Air Stores Issuing Ship and was a pioneer of the then new skill of vertical replenishment. Referring to the development of the RFA from its origins in 1905 as a transporter of the new fuel. oil. Mr Kemp said that the usefulness of aircraft operating from RFA decks had become an essential feature oi the work of the Service. Helicopter operation was an integral part of RFA work and the new RFA RELIANT marked another step forward and one which required close partnership with the Fleet Air Arm. The new ship was a triumph of cooperation and ingenuity. Its unique design was developed from an original USA concept but the conversion of the container ship into a sophisticated fleet support vessel had been brought to fruition by the UK Government. Mr Kemp went on to pay tribute to the many different agencies who had helped create the project including the Naval stait whose concept it was, Controller of the Navy's staif who had overseen the project, British Aerospace who had adapted the ARAPAHO

INTO SERVICE Once taken into service the new RFA RELIANT was soon given a chance to prove itself as a major front line support ship greatly contributing to the flexibility and operational capabilities of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service. This chance came with the escalation of the Middle East crisis in February which soon brought RFA RELIANT into the news and also served to rekindle public awareness of the many roles that the RFA Service is called upon to perform. RFA RELIANT was completing her Basic Operational Sea Training at Fbrtland. in anticipation of a long deployment in the South Atlantic, when the Ministry of Defence announced that she would sail for the Mediterranean instead. to relieve the assault ship HMS FEARLESS in support of the 115-strong British peace-keeping force in Lebanon. She was deemed more suitable for the major role in the Support Force since, unlike FEARLESS, she has the ability to maintain and hangar her aircraft for very long periods. With four Sea King troop-carrying helicopters from 846 Naval Air Squadron

the Lebanon on 12 January. As the crisis deepened on 7 February the British troops, men of the 16th/ 15th Lancers, were virtually besieged in the city of Beirut. Rounds of ministerial talks conducted amidst intense diplomatic activity around the world, led to the decision to withdraw the troops and by the morning of 8 February the world knew that the British contingent was safely aboard RFA RELIANT. having been ferried out by RELIANT's Royal Navy Sea Kings and Royal Air Force Chinook helicopters. Speculation concerning the fate of the 1800 British civilians and other nationals followed the troops' withdrawal and two days later the

troops returned to cover the evacuation of those who wished to leave. RFA RELIANT again played a major part in the operation. Most of the evacuees were picked up by Sea King from outside the British Embassy in West Beirut. Another 70 people from East Beirut should have been taken out the next day by one of two ferries chartered by the British Government. Bad weather however prevented the ferry from entering port and instead they too were picked up by RFA RELIANT's Sea Kings. All the evacuees were taken to RFA RELIANT and then flown by relays of Sea King, Wessex and Chinook helicopters to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus. RFA RELIANT remained off the

Lebanon and continued to maintain a British presence in the area, awaiting any new developments in the crisis. Finally, at the end of March with no hope of any possible settlement being found, RFA RELIANT detached and headed for the United Kingdom, arriving in Devonport on 5 April 1984. RFA RELIANT had proved worthy of her name, living up to the highest traditions of the RFA Service on a first deployment of a particularly sensitive and difficult operational nature.

An aerial view of RFA REUANT on trials off Portland.

At dawn on 8 February 1984, RFA RELIANT was stationed off the coast of Lebanon and in direct contact with the British forces ashore. When the word was given by the Ops staff on board to move, three of the ships' Sea King helicopters lifted from the deck to commence the re-deployment of British Forces, Lebanon. RAF CHINOOKs from Cyprus were deployed for heavy equipment lifts. A Sea King lifts off from Jounieh during the redeployment of Britforleb.

Throughout the day a continual stream of helicopters moved between ship and shore ferrying troops and equipment from the Jounieh landing zone whilst in the skies above RFA RELIANT two RAF Phantoms from Akrotiri provided air cover. adding the roar of jets to the ever present clatter of rotor b lades. As the helicopters brought them in, the troops were processed by the RFA and RN ship's staff before being taken to their temporary accommodation. while their vehicles were stowed in the hangar. Tn thP rrftprnnnn thAn=l wn" nn nrlrlArl

in the Chouf mountains and the level of shelling in the city increased. one round falling within l .000 metres of the landing zone. By nightfall British Forces. Lebanon (BritForLeb) were re-deployed in toto aboard RFA RELIANT with all their equipment. The operation, lasting some ten hours, ran without a hitch and reflected the skill. professionalism. courage and good humour of everyone involved. RFA RELIANT in one day. achieved 60 deck landings. fed 240 people, housed 30 vehicles and accommodated l 00 troops. 'IWo days later it would all happen again! On 11 February. with BritForLeb still

chartereq for the evacuation to get alongside at Jounieh, began airlifting civilians from the British Embassy landing zone. The Royal Navy section of the accommodation. normally housing 35, was turned into a receiving zone under the auspices of the Supply Officer Lt Cdr Ben Warlow RN. A naval party; led by Lt Richard Okill, was sent ashore to liaise at the Embassy and RFA RN and Army receiving teams. directed by Chief Officer Tony Mitchell RFA and Second Officer Bill Butcher (on secondment from Harrisons) were set up on board. Operating with as many as three helicopters on deck at one time RFA RELIANT achieved a smooth flow of people from Beirut to the ship and, this time, on to Cyprus. The civilians. tired, a little bewildered, some airsick and many unable to speak English, were treated with kindness and courtesy by the receiving staff as they awaited onward transport to Cyprus in RAF CHINOOKs. Medical teams, under the doctor. Lt Jones RN, and Medical Assistant LeGard, provided care for a number of sick and stretcher cases. including a heavily pregnant woman who threatened to present the ship with a surprise package! Despite such small alarms the operation was completed by 1800 by which time 500 people had been lifted through RFA RELIANT to Cyprus. Both operations took place in difficult and unusual circumstances and the various force elements - RFA RN. 846 Sqd, RNSI'S and RAF - used their professional skills effectively and cohesively. RFA RELIANT lived up to her name and clearly demonstrated the special spirit of teamwork and closeness of purpose between the RFA and the RN. It is impossible to list all those who contributed to the success of the operations because everyone on board played an important part, but if called upon to name some. mention would have -to _b e made of men such as Fred Goulding (PO Deck RFA) who spent his days closed up at the forward action station; Lt John O'Brien in 'Flyco', the man who co-ordinated all aircraft moves on the deck and got more helicopters per square inch than on any other deck, Navy or RFA! Working for him the Flight Deck teams; CPO Bowles, captains of the deck PO Machin and PO Coburn, LA Kille, NA Laing and CPO Russell. Men in the gun crews who spent very uncomfortable days in anti-flash gear and tin helmets: SG lAs O'Connell. Prenelle, Biggs and Meaney. Stewards Towns and Havikes.

what was happening. waiting only for a possible crisis: 2nd Engineer Andy Wills. :rvllv11A Roberts. :rvllv11A Warburton. 3rd and 4th Engineers Preston and Chadwick. Laundrymen Tam Chun and Tsang Nam who are both Hong Kong Chinese. One of the hardest worked departments. yet one that received the least acknowledgement. was the Radio Room. SRO Bruce Barnes and his team: ROs Dave Alport. John Walton. Bob 路 Mitchell and Barry Skidmore plus Yeoman Jim Green and signalmen Bill Roulstone and Hugh O'Donnell cleared nearly l 00 signals on both days as well as maintaining all aircraft and tactical nets. The Catering Branch. too. performed miracles with Chief Cook Andy McDougall and his staff of three feeding 240 people in the afternoon. On the flight deck the STO(N) department handled baggage and 路 stores ensuring that evacuees stayed with their one suitcase all the way to Cyprus. Jack Nelson (SOG D). SA2 Cruickshank and SA2 Mather (who had just won a 拢500 Spot the Ball competition) all played a vital part. The squadron. under the command of Lt Cdr Jack Lomas and assisted by Us Slade. Spence. Robinson and NA Lelittka flew long and arduous hours on both days with little rest. Of equal importance the Aircraft Engineering Department. including men like LAEMs Newson and Harrison. moved heaven and earth to keep the aircraft flying.

On the bridge were First Officer Les Coupland who retained the watch throughout both operations as well as acting as ship's Operations Officer. the chief Engineer John Pearson in charge of HQ l CTG Captain Newman RN and his 'Ops' staff, Lt Cdr Rob Bishop and LRO Bob Goode. who co-ordinated both operations and. of course. Captain Dick Thorn RFA who was in command of RFA RELIANT and bore the responsibility of the ship and all her aircraft during the redeployment and

the evacuation. Many images remain: the captain of the flight deck asleep on the spot during a lull in the flying; the call "RFA RELIANT Airways announce .. :路 but most memorable of all. during the civilian evacuation. the largest sailor on the ship. bent almost double. leaving one of the Seakings with a small child holding determinedly onto his hand - her rock in the storm of the airlift. 2nd OFFICER JOHN SHEPHERD

An RAF CHINOOK unloads a Mark 1 Ferret Scout Car on board RFA .REIJANT.

.Unwanted ship costing :.rll 000 I '



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be: .I I ~~- Ry DES:\10:'\D WETTER:": i1 ~

i\aval Correspondent THF. 1-.lini~tn· of D•'ff•ncc is ll'h factn~ what offiCials nm: pri\·atelv describ~ a-; a ' of "htdt-1liiS embarrassment" pean over the fate of one of the nsion Navy's lareest ~hirs. It '·' sttll p.1viug out about •urcs ., of £1\.0ilfl a !l,n 111 \ h.mcr fees tor the RnYdl Fi"l'l Au~: ihan· 01nt1· ~ kers. other ~llbmdrtnc hf'ltcoptcr earner r.,,:,ant t"2!l.t11:n ton~1. Jlthntt.i:h 1 <' lV!I tnfnr- 'he hds b<'en 11 1nl! 1rll<' at Ph m· nul:·, ''n' e \l.11 "'h,.,, ~h•· tnlcl<-r~ .vcd tn rt•turn<'d frnm th•· Fnl;..l.mds dllf'r d record :ihO d.J1 sat '('d. df'rtn~, The charter fmm hf'r owners. ' bank; i H.1rn~.on Line of !.II·Prpool. ·marion ! d()es not exptrc unt1l J<~nu;~rv. ns ~US· , but her rol<' a~ a mobtlc bdsC lor .: links. i a .SN Jo.:mg helicopter srw<~dron. <'Xtend· 1 part of the Falld.mds .:arw.on. assets to ; ha~ alrC'adv been taken o~er by ! a more modern store ship. t:(e

The helicopter carrier Reliant Reliant w,1s farmerl\' the container ~hir A~tronomer. built in Poland in 1977. .-\fter b~;"ing thart<•r!'rl !n l!l8:i. she und<>rwt•nt a nine-month lOn,·C'r~ton for h<'r n;;1al role at J (OSI of £2.) militnn. week !\C'Ii<Jnt 11 a~ Lt 1 Npuoi with ,t lor work to ~tart on npptns:: out her helitnptcr ded, tor return to the Amcnc.m ~ d\'V "htth lent it. But the <\mt'nc&as an real usc lor ·rh<' dec!.. <And when rl"turncd :t 11 til probdbly be put m store. Cnder the term~ of the thar· tcr the ~>!inistn· has to rc,, lor~ · Last

o;tco~~ned tu ~(TJtdt crew

the ship to her oncJna! '<':ldi· lion hr.torc rNurnin!: hr"r !11 !1rr be

nwr.Pr~. a job that 1u11: :<1 onnrc c~p~nsivf! th;~o huvu1~ outn:,:hl '"~ud s\.:ntpprn!.t ht: J

Hill'rison !.inc ~<tid i: ~nil harl no idf"a if the ~it!p """'d u~<

rf'!ilrnPd oe\'t \C <H' or if th~ \l111:,trv 1\'ould '<·c k to f'.\l~·ntJ thr- < hJrtrr n~ bu,· her Th" \IHll'tn· 'aid onlv lll,,l 11'> dct I · ~Hill hJd b<'CI1 Jli,Hll' . RP!Iant''i '' lthdr<~wal from ~f",.,· ,cr. in thC' F;~lklar.ri~ i• r~rt of thi' rf"du ctlnrl irnrn £5.)2 mtl· lion to £-t-12 millinn piJnnrd in t h" ("'pcndtt urc on ! he tarn~r>n in tlti .; )Car·~ lldt•ncc r.~tirnal•'' ·

.. ountry's main source of Income.


to be s;>lit.

A<..:L and tiapag-Lioyd.

UK drops 'Arapaho' concept. ':: !) ·· ·;'

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Governmer.: has a US·designc:d system for converting · a merchant vessel into 3 noating helic~pter base af::r conducting a three-year e.r.pcri· mcnt with the chartered contain~r· ship R FA Rrliant. It is now pl:lnncd to buy the 27 ,36S tons gross Reliant from her owr.e~. T. & J. Harrison, for rc~alc ;o the US strategic reserve. The "Arap:1ho" concert cor:1;:~tSI:'l£ fiif!ht deck and associated accom· modation was fitted on to Rr/iant, c., Astronoma, ;,, 1983 by Camr:1cll Laird on Merseysidc. The vessel - on a long-term charter from Harrison thought to t-c wonh £9.000 a d:~y :~nd not due to c~rirc until January. 1987 h:!s si::cc been used in the eastern 1bandon~d

Mediterranean and the South Atlantic. The Ministry of Defence yester· day said it had been decided the "Arapaho" system. which can support up to si~ Sea King helicopters, had shortcomings as a sclf·suffi. cient noating base. Seaforth Welding h:ts won a four·wcc:k contract to remove the Oi;;ht deck and equipment from R,,/ianr at the Seaforth container terminal in Liverpool, fror.t where it will be returned to the US·:".:avy. The ship will also be refurbished to her original condition before anY. attempt at purchase and resale is made. Both are subject to contract. The ministry spent abou: £15 million (S22.3m) on fitting the equipment, but will not disclose how much dismantling and subse·

quent refurbishment will cost. Sale to the US Navy; for which there ai!: precedents. is a solution tc the embarrassing position of having a costly containership on charter for almos: si~ months with no work for her to do. Rdiant sailed to the South autumn,'l984. and ....·hen she returned to the UK :his spring had spent a record.S50 day• at sea. It is reponed she was brought home as part of moves to meet a 20% cut in expenditure on the Falklands garrison which has been demanded by the Government. Harrison said it had no know· ledge of Government plans for the sn1p. But the . ·Liverpool-based owner is unlikely to l'aise objections t~\the prir:::iple of selling the shi'p.



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Ship that' b h.oled the Navy's budget



by Ton)· ~tort'y


J:I\JBi\111:/\SSJ:Il 1\lini~tr' of llC'It•ttcP o!fid<Jls '·"'' night r!'lu~t·tl I•> comnu·ut 011 itw futur•· a't•rpool-


rq: i qe n·d Hoval I· teet At1.~iliary lu·lin>ptt·r· rill rit:r IH·tl l11•d aud illlt· in lilt' l\o1 ,d "''"''" th d•>Ck. . i h··

1\1 .\ H1:liant UB .Ilf.lO !•11;~). tlw lonn•·r ll.llr · i~ l >l! I. i 11 t• , . o 11 I;, i Ill' r o.: IIi p ,\ '' r <>IIIJIIIIT •·n11 1 o•rf r·t.l I or lllilif.rl\'


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i:-. ... , _, tin:: rtw l\lol) 111(>1(' th;ut ~ li) .IIV!J.:r dil\. in dtartr·r '''''"·

'lht> dr<~Jl••r bl ' l\\1'1'11 tl11: ll.11r i~IHI l.inr· But fill' dur,.. .. h.t\t' lJet·n

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It is hdit'H·d tl1e ~hip :tt..-iq:d iu l.ivcr·puol lr·om l'lnnouth for lite ro:moval ol .I II 1\ rt1 l' r· j l' ;1 II - d I' S j g II e 0 lu·l j,-, >p tt!r fltTk. . It h:1rl her·n berthed iu lln ""!"'~"' tlocky;u·tl si11ce n·tur!IIIIJ~ in l\1ay ft·om the Falklands. a ~ tP.r :JGU days at



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liJIIt•·d that the ship had l!ePti idle si:u:r~ it'> return front the South Atlantic. but dec lined to comment on its

llelshr Domiui· 1\fi'U\\' ~

Ot hr·r S()UfTI'S twlir:H: the l·._, ·, _·opter lant.liug tlet·k,


Ara1•aho alter til{· Het.! h I.:, •r 1rihe wh()~e !1'1.'111 h•·r·s

ll11• Yo• taiu lw

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Jt ;:re 10 he •:d ill !.iv<·rpool .111<1 ,.,hippnl llalk to 1!11: tJ ~. ~,;,q· , from whom it w;os



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tPIIl[H'I ;r w.dl


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'f flf' COll\'t'l ~lOll, ,·;IJidl I'O,_.t t'!:l million, tuiJit•d the lh-!iant into a II<Jating air· """~~ I or a squadron of Sl'a

llhHft• ,

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to llt · (·Ia!-- " •' '

Ki111~ hl'limpt('rS ann~·rl with <ll tt i - ~ulJ! inc we:tpouo.:.

left C.lllltllf'll Laird, the 1\lol) was s:tid to !Je llt·iightcd with the work, which gave the t>; <n·y a cnt-price ajrcral I carl'ier. Under the terms of the l !tarter with llaJTison Lit II!, the Navy is ohlii(t•d to restore thc ship to its the


lJ 11 i l'l'

;rlf flwir }JO'iS<'siOIIS Oil b~cks, and the systt")rn":::



bofJ dat Die

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original specification. Naval •~xpcr·ts predict that job could cost c\'!:n mo1·e

than the originai nine-month couversion.





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RFA Relia11t- £10.uu0-a-day millstone_ '


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MV Astronomer/Reliant  
MV Astronomer/Reliant  

MV Astronomer converted to RFA Reliant