Former officer's warning as three more of our Navy ships are sold off
Two Royal Navy coastal patrol vessels and a survey ship are to be “sold” to the Bangladesh Navy in a deal funded by the UK overseas aid budget, it is understood.
The vessels – Leeds Castle and Dumbarton Castle – will be towed to the Tyne next week from Portsmouth Naval base for a short refit before a handover to the Bangladesh navy.
The Devonport-based survey ship HMS Roebuck, which was only decommissioned in Plymouth last month, is also part of the deal despite undergoing a multi-million pound refit in 2004. It is unknown how much the sale is worth, though it is thought no money will change hands, with the deal being funded by the UK overseas aid budget.
“How long these cuts and overseas sales will go on is unknown,” Mike Critchley, a former Naval officer and Liskeard-based publisher of Warship World magazine, said last night. “There is not much left to sell compared to 1997.”
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The vessels’ main role was to protect offshore assets, including oil and gas installations and fisheries at the 200-mile limit.
HMS Dumbarton Castle spent much of her time deployed in the South Atlantic as a guard ship, patrolling around the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, alternating with her sister ship HMS Leeds Castle.
They also had a vital training role for young commanding officers of the future and as minelayers. The two ships were replaced in 2008.
Many had thought they would make ideal vessels to be brought back into Naval service for anti-piracy patrols in the Indian ocean or to re-instate the now defunct, but highly successful, anti-drugs patrols in the Caribbean.
The sale adds to the 29 vessels sold by Defence Ministers to foreign navies between 1997 and 2010, raising some £580 million for the Treasury.
However, only 26 craft were ordered, accelerating the shrinking of the fleet. When Labour was elected in 1997, the Royal Navy boasted 137 vessels. A succession of decisions to scrap ships and submarines without ordering replacements has seen that total fall to 99.
The number of major warships has also been cut from 52 – 36 surface ships and 16 submarines – to 40, including 29 ships and 11 submarines.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: “HMS Roebuck has been sold to the Bangladesh Navy.
“The way we do things is to look for a buyer for a ship as a first option. If there is no buyer then we would look to recycle. This way it is giving money back to the taxpayer.”
It is thought that the Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker Oakleaf will be offered for sale in the next few weeks for scrap.
“We should all be very worried for us as an island nation,” Mr Critchley said. “Our ever smaller fleet tasked with protecting these islands and our imports, particularly our oil and gas supplies, on the high seas remains as important as ever in these uncertain and unstable times.
“We no longer have the ships to do a proper job of it. Defence has hardly warranted a mention in this election campaign. Having got to the point where we are unable to defend ourselves without outside foreign assistance our leaders have discarded the subject with minimal passing interest.”