The Grace-1 Supertanker was an oil tanker headed for Syria, but intercepted by the British navy
More than 2,000 members of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary voted to begin industrial action last week following complaints that they were offered a pay increase worth 1.5 per cent less than their Royal Navy counterparts. It comes just days after an RFA vessel played a crucial role in the storming of an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar, said to be carrying oil to Syria. Last night RMT general secretary Mick Cash warned: “If we don’t see progress, we might withdraw labour completely. Does the Royal Navy have enough sailors to take our place?” The Royal Fleet Auxiliary, which has existed since 1905, is one of the Royal Navy’s five fighting arms, and its 13 vessels often face the same risk of enemy action as they sail to replenish warships It takes part in military, counter-narcotics and counter-piracy operations as well as humanitarian missions, and its vessels include medically trained staff and helicopter pads from which Special Forces operations are launched. On Wednesday RFA Tidesurge played an integral role in an operation which saw 30 Royal Marines board and seize the 300,000-tonne Iranian supertanker on instructions from Gibraltar’s Government.
Of the two Wildcat helicopters used, one transported the green berets which then roped down onto the tanker’s deck while the other, launched from Tidesurge, provided cover with its door mounted machine gun and infra red surveillance scopes.
Though RFA crews are not permitted to take industrial action at sea, they have listed a series of duties on land which they will either no longer perform at all, or do so without the flexibility usually expected to get the job done quickly.
This includes vital maintenance of RFA vessels and no longer supporting critical sea training which Royal Navy vessels must undertake before they can deploy on operations around the UK or globally.
Last night sources warned that a failure to participate with Flag Officer Sea Training (FOST) will impact on the capability of warships such as the Type 23 frigates, many of which are undergoing a major overhaul and need FOST before they can deploy on operations.
The RFA are a crucial asset to the navy, so why don’t they get treated as such?
Peter Roberts, a former RFA petty officer whose vessel was targeted by an Argentine submarine during the Falklands War, said RFA crews were not being given the same recognition as their Royal Navy cousins despite running the same risks.
“Every single conflict has involved RFA vessels. Even the Royal Navy admits they’re a ‘force multiplier’, which is a way of admitting they don’t have enough surface vessels and are making up the slack with RFA,” he said.
“We have a saying: ‘today’s Royal Navy moves courtesy RFA’, and it’s a fact.
“Each vessel is flight deck capable, and they’ve been used in places like Sierra Leone where RFA Argos transported troops and provided medical facilities. We often deploy at short notice for up to four months at a time.
“When RFA Port Victoria took part in the Libya campaign, apart from food supplies and spares she was carrying thousands of tonnes of fuel and ammunition. They make for good enemies targets.”
He told how his own vessel , RFA Tidespring, was targeted by an Argentine submarine’s periscope during the Falklands War.
“All we had to protect ourselves were two General Purpose Machine Guns when we sailed to South Georgia with HMS Antrim and HMS Plymouth,” he said.
“We took Argentine prisoners, including Captain Horacio Bicain of the submarine Santa Fe. When he was interrogated by my captain, he admitted that he had spotted us on his periscope and had lined us up. Then HMS Plymouth came bearing down and she fled.
“Don’t tell me the RFA doesn’t take the same risks as the Royal Navy, which cannot be put to sea for any prolonged period without the RFA. So why are we still being treated as second cousins?”
The RFA Tidespring was targeted by an Argentine submarine during the Falklands War
Though humanitarian missions are currently exempt from the industrial action, this would change if RFA crews downed tools completely, said union chief Cash.
“Over the last ten years the RFA been hit badly by the pay increases policy, which has crews 25 percent poorer in real terms,” he said.
“Last year the Armed Forces were awarded 2.9 percent pay rise , and that’s great, but the men and woman of the RFA working cheek-by-jowl with them only received 1.5 percent. They are the Royal Navy’s lifeline, and it really incensed our members.”
He added: “Our members can only take industrial action in port. They won’t be coming back from leave early, there are certain activities and drills that, while they should be done regularly, they’re not obliged to do, and if these things aren’t done the feels cannot sail. This will have an impact eventually,
RFA workers received a 1.5 percent pay rise, while the navy received 2.5 percent in comparison
“If we don’t see progress, we might have to take full industrial action which would mean withdrawing labour completely. Does the Royal Navy have enough sailors to take our place?
“This is a Government that can find tens of millions of pounds to give to ferry operators without vessels, and £30bn to Eurotunnel, yet they can’t find £500,000 for the RFA?. It’s not a big ask.’
A MOD spokesperson said: “We are aware of the RMT’s decision to undertake industrial action and are assessing their proposals so we can take appropriate measures to ensure operations continue during this period.
“The pay rise for Royal Fleet Auxiliary personnel was set in accordance with Treasury guidance.”
Published at Sat, 06 Jul 2019 23:15:00 +0000