Select Committee on Defence Eleventh Report

3  Strategic sea-lift

Roll-on Roll-off container ships

20. The MoD has access to six Roll-on Roll-off (Ro-Ro) container ships under a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) arrangement. The ships entered service between 2002 and 2003. Four of the Ro-Ro ships are permanently contracted to the MoD with the other two at notice for MoD tasking.[22] For the two ships at notice, one can be accessed in 20 days and the other in 30 days.[23] The six ships are supplied and manned by Foreland Shipping.[24]

21. Brigadier Mason considered that the six Ro-Ro ferries had performed "extremely effectively". The ships had provided "assured delivery for the MoD in support of operational activity", but were also used to support other MoD activity such as "to support the South Atlantic islands".[25] The MoD had not come across an item which had been too large to be moved in one of the Ro-Ros.[26]

22. Given the tempo of current operations, we asked whether there was a case for acquiring more Ro-Ro ships. The MoD considered that the six Ro-Ro ships were sufficient to meet its current needs.[27] AVM Leeson was "very comfortable" with the MoD's sea-lift position.[28] We are pleased to learn that the Ro-Ro container ships have performed very effectively in both supporting current operations and undertaking other tasks, and note that the MoD considers that the six ships are sufficient to meet its current needs.

Landing Ship Dock (Auxiliary) vessels

23. We examined the progress of the Landing Ship Dock (Auxiliary) (LSD(A)) programme in our Report on the Ministry of Defence Annual Report and Accounts 2004-05.[29] The procurement of the LSD(A) ships was poorly managed and losses totalling some £102 million were reported in the MoD Annual Report and Accounts 2004-05.[30]

24. During this inquiry we enquired about the LSD(A) vessels and their possible use in a strategic sea-lift role. Brigadier Mason said that there were four LSD(A) vessels, but "a number are still to enter commissioned service". When the vessels were not undertaking their core activity of supporting amphibious operations and training, the MoD plans to utilise these vessels in the sea transport role. He added that they were

very effective ships. They are half the size of the Roll-on Roll-off ferries, but if one is delivering only half the stores they should be very useful platforms to utilise…We have used them only once to date.[31]

25. We note that in addition to the six Ro-Ro container ships, the MoD's four Landing Ship Dock (Auxiliary) vessels can also be used in a strategic sea-lift role, although they have only been used once to date in such a role.

Commercial shipping

26. Short-term peaks of tasking, or major deployments, may require additional shipping over and above the capacity provided by the Ro-Ro container ships and the LSD(A)s. The first option to obtain additional shipping is through the use of allied shipping provided through the Sealift Coordination Centre, which allows allies to make use of spare capacity from other nations, on a repayment basis. The MoD stated that the cost of this shipping was less than for chartered commercial shipping and the capabilities of the vessels and their condition was well known.[32]

27. When additional sea-lift is required from the commercial market, a Statement of Requirement is prepared which sets out the quantity and type of equipment, the timescale and loading / discharge ports. The Statement of Requirement is submitted to the market through a panel of brokers and ships offered in response are evaluated in terms of their technical ability to achieve the task, safety management and cost.[33]

28. There had been occasions when the commercial shipping market was busy undertaking other commercial activity. A need for "surety" is the reason why the MoD has its own strategic sea-lift assets. Brigadier Mason told us that if the MoD did not have the Ro-Ro ships and "were looking at deploying a multi-national force, the other nations would also be looking for the same commercial shipping". This could result in the UK not getting what it needed and potentially not putting the "force elements into theatre in the right order or, more importantly, the right time".[34]

29. The design of new commercial ships is continuously changing. Brigadier Mason confirmed that the commercial shipping market was reducing all the time because ships were getting bigger.[35] He added that "a lot of the Ro-Ros in the commercial market are used solely from point A to point B to match the infrastructure of those ports".[36] We asked where commercial ships chartered by the MoD would dock if they were not able to dock at the Marchwood military port in Hampshire. Brigadier Mason said that in such situations, the MoD could use commercial ports and had done so in the past.[37] Ro-Ro ships were used to transport munitions and the MoD had a number of munitions dock facilities.[38]

30. We asked whether the MoD was chartering shipping to supplement its own ship-lift capacity for the current operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Brigadier Mason told us that "over the past couple of years we have chartered a number of ships but not, as far as I am aware, in direct support of Afghanistan or Iraq".[39] For low priority stocks, the MoD had a contract for a container ship that would move containers "full of our stock either to Kuwait or Karachi and then a civilian firm will move it up country".[40]

31. Brigadier Mason considered that getting access to commercial shipping was not a problem.[41] He said that for the first stage of the operation in Iraq (TELIC 1), the MoD had secured what it had required, some 60 ships, "as a result of foresight because we got in before other nations did".[42] AVM Leeson added that the Defence Supply Chain Operations and Movements Centre watched for the "movements, fluctuations and trends in the marketplace from the point of view of warning us if there appear to be difficult periods….on sea-lift by and large that is not an issue".[43] In 2006-07, the MoD spent £64 million on sea-lift charter, which included the Ro-Ro container ships.[44]

32. The MoD has good arrangements to access commercial shipping and has, to date, secured the commercial shipping it required to supplement its own sea-lift capability. However, the commercial shipping market is reducing. We recommend that the MoD undertake a detailed analysis of the commercial shipping market with the aim of assessing whether it will be able to secure access to commercial shipping in the quantities and timeframes necessary to meet its future needs.

22   Ev 45-46 Back

23   Q 27 Back

24   Ev 46 Back

25   Q 21 Back

26   Q 22 Back

27   Ev 46 Back

28   Q 24 Back

29   Defence Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2005-06, Ministry of Defence Annual Report and Accounts 2004-05, HC 822, para 76-82 Back

30   Ibid, para 76 Back

31   Q 32 Back

32   Ev 46 Back

33   Ibid. Back

34   Q 25 Back

35   Q 28 Back

36   Q 29 Back

37   Q 31 Back

38   Ibid. Back

39   Q 33  Back

40   Ibid. Back

41   Q 34 Back

42   Q 36 Back

43   Ibid. Back

44   Ev 47 Back

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