Back with a Vengeance – the Navy Open House

12 05 2013

Changi Naval Base opens its doors to the public this weekend for the much anticipated Navy Open House which on the evidence of a preview of it I was  fortunate enough to get to see, will be one packed with lots of fun and excitement for anyone heading to the event. The preview which provided a sneak peek into the Open House, hosted by the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), also included an opportunity to take a short voyage on the RSS Vengeance, a Missile Corvette (MCV) which can achieve speeds of above 30 knots – one of several rides on RSN’s naval assets the public can look forward to be treated to over the two day event.

The RSS Vengeance Missile Corvette (MCV) is one of the RSN's naval assets that the public will have an opportunity to take a cruise on.

The RSS Vengeance Missile Corvette (MCV) is one of the RSN’s naval assets that the public will have an opportunity to take a cruise on.

The Navy Open House on 18th and 19th May promises to be an event for all to look forward to.

The Navy Open House on 18th and 19th May promises to be an event for all to look forward to.

One highlight of the Open House must be the exhilarating Dynamic Display. The display which is on twice during the day sees divers from the elite Naval Diving Unit being dropped into the sea by hovering Chinook helicopters in order to stage a daring rescue bid which culminates with the divers storming a  ship. The display which commences with the firing of a Typhoon gun,  also has other assets on display, including a sail past of the newly commissioned Archer Class submarine, a Seahawk dropping a sonar to conduct a submarine hunt, and rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIB) and a Fast Craft Utility (FCU) used when the divers are in action.

A Chinook dropping naval divers to stage a rescue mission - part of the Dynamic Display segment.

A Chinook dropping naval divers to stage a rescue mission – part of the Dynamic Display segment.

The segment starts with a Typhoon Gun being fired.

The segment starts with a Typhoon Gun being fired.

A RHIB carrying divers.

A RHIB carrying divers.

Naval divers storming a ship.

Naval divers storming a ship.

A Seahawk seen during the Dynamic Display - flying over one of the RSN's Frigates.

A Seahawk seen during the Dynamic Display – flying over one of the RSN’s Frigates.

An Archer Class submarine with a Frigate.

An Archer Class submarine with a Frigate.

The opportunity to have a ride on the MCV will surely be to be a popular one. Besides the MCV there rides on board several other naval assets, the Mine Countermeasure Vessels (MCMV) and Patrol Vessels (PV), to consider. The rides will give participants a glance into life on board and an appreciation of how some of the navy’s shipboard operations are conducted. Visitors are also able to opt for a ride across the waters of the base on some of the RSN’s amphibious assets including the Fast Craft Utility (FCU) and the LARC V (a “Duck Tours” type craft). Due to the limited capacity on these rides, registration during the Open House will be required and selection will be carried out through a ballot.

Visitors can ballot for a place on a cruise onborad vessels such as the MCV.

Visitors can ballot for a place on a cruise onborad vessels such as the MCV.

The MCVs.

The MCVs.

The navy relies a lot more on traditional navigational aids such as paper charts.

The navy relies a lot more on traditional navigational aids such as paper charts.

The crowded wheelhouse during a harbour operation.

The crowded wheelhouse during a harbour operation.

At the berth side, there will also be a chance to go on board several of RSN’s assets including the Frigates, Landing Ship Tank (LST), MCV, PV and MCMV which will be open for public visits. There is also a possibility that some of the foreign naval vessels which are in town for the International Maritime Defence Exhibition (IMDEX) will also be open to the public – including the state-of-the-art US Navy (USN) Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) USS Freedom.

There is an opportunity to go on board some of the ships at berth.

There is an opportunity to go on board some of the ships at berth.

Visits may also be possible to foreign naval vessels such as the USN's LCS.

Visits may also be possible to foreign naval vessels such as the USN’s LCS.

To complete the experience, there are also a couple of tents where visitors can find out more about the RSN, its assets, how it operates and understand more of what life is like on board. The Mission and Capability Tent provides insight into the 3rd Generation RSN’s capabilities through its equipment and how it integrates them. Displays include a missile exhibition, 3D models of the assets, and some very interesting equipment. Those which caught my eye are the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) and the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV – which can also be deployed in a sacrificial manner as a mine detonator when armed with an explosive head); both deployed by the MCMVs. Also of interest is a fixed wing Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) which extends the capability of the MCVs – due to the limited deck space on the MCV, the ships are equipped with a specially designed recovery net to allow the UAV to be recovered.

Staring a UAV right in the eye - the surveillance payload of the MCV's UAV.

Staring a UAV right in the eye – the surveillance payload of the MCV’s UAV.

The surveillance module of the mine-hunting ROV used by the MCMVs.

A face underwater – the surveillance module of the mine-hunting ROV used by the MCMVs.

A welcome provided into one of the tents.

A welcome provided into one of the tents.

Inside the Mission and Capability Tent.

Inside the Mission and Capability Tent.

The second tent is the Experience Tent which provides an opportunity to go on board on a rope ladder and fire a gun which shoot paintball pellets at targets. Once inside, visitors also get to see a shipboard surgical team in action in a mock-up of a state-of-the-art mobile surgical theatre which some of the larger vessels can be fitted out with. Another mock-up is that of the inside of a submarine where not only is there an opportunity to have a feel of what the inside of one is like, there is also a chance to hear first-hand of what living in the confines of one is like from one of an exclusive class of naval servicemen – a submariner.

A mock-up of a surgical theatre inside the Experience Tent.

A mock-up of a surgical theatre inside the Experience Tent.

A very real looking surgical procedure demonstrated by the surgical team.

A very real looking surgical procedure demonstrated by the surgical team.

If all that isn’t enough to occupy the visitor, there is also a “Family and Fun” Tent where game stalls and video simulators can be found. The little ones can also look forward to have their photos taken in uniform as well as be entertained by roving buskers, and get their hands on balloons and souvenirs at the Navy Open House.

Visitors will have a chance to take aim and fire.

Visitors will have a chance to take aim and fire.

The Navy Open House will be held on 18 and 19 May 2013 at Changi Naval Base. To get there, visitors will need to hop onto a shuttle bus from Singapore Expo which will run from 8 am to 4.30 pm on 18 May and from 8.30 am to 4.30 pm on 19 May. For more information do visit the Navy Open House website http://www.mindef.gov.sg/navyopenhouse/ and the Navy Open House Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/singaporenavy.





The largest dock east of the Suez in the midst of a world that is to change

25 12 2012

Tucked in the far north of the island of Singapore is a huge 86 hectare shipyard which seems far out of place. Its location is far from the large concentration of shipyards and related industries which has grown in the far west of Singapore. The shipyard, Sembawang Shipyard, today stands as a physical reminder of a legacy left by the former colonial masters of Singapore. The British operated the yard as a Naval Dockyard which was an important component of a huge naval base which had stretched some six and a half kilometres along the northern coast from Woodlands (close to where the Causeway is) to Sembawang (the eastern boundary ran along the northern end of Sembawang Road from its junction with Canberra Road to where Sembawang Park is today).

An aerial view of the Naval Dockyard in 1962 (Image: Horatio J. Kookaburra on Flickr). The former Stores Basin can be seen on the lower left of the photo and the King George VI dock can be seen close to the top right. Three floating docks are today tied up along a finger pier constructed off the 850 metre northwall. The northwall is seen running along the lower edge of the photo.

An aerial view of the Naval Dockyard in 1962 (Image: Horatio J. Kookaburra on Flickr). The former Stores Basin can be seen on the lower left of the photo and the King George VI dock can be seen close to the top right. Three floating docks are today tied up along a finger pier constructed off the 850 metre northwall. The northwall is seen running along the lower edge of the photo.

The dockyard and the base was for a long time, an important source of employment in Singapore. A report in 1961 put the local workforce of the dockyard at 10,700, with the base accounting for as much as 20% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Singapore. What this did mean was that when the accelerated pullout of the British forces was announced in 1968, there were huge concerns, not only from a security viewpoint, but also on unemployment. As part of the arrangements made in the lead-up to the pullout, the dockyard was transferred to the Singapore government for a token $1 in 1968. Sembawang Shipyard Pte. Ltd. was established on 19th of June that year and a British commercial shipyard, Swan Hunter roped in to manage the transition of the yard to a commercial one.

The Dockyard's gates seen in the 1960s (source: www.singas.co.uk).

The Dockyard’s gates seen in the 1960s (source: http://www.singas.co.uk). The Naval Dockyard had been a major source of employment in Singapore. The local workforce in 1961 numbered some 10,700.

A key component of the transition was in training the local workforce, not just on the ground but also management staff to eventually take-over the running of the yard. Besides Swan Hunter, the British Ministry of Defence also seconded some 150 Naval Officers and civilians in the first year to ensure that the transition from a naval dockyard to a commercial one, over the three years it was to take the pullout to be completed, would go smoothly. The arrival of the first commercial ship came in March 1969 and by the time the year had ended, Sembawang Shipyard had docked some 66 merchant vessels and was well on its way to becoming a leading ship repair yard. The success of the shipyard was one of Singapore’s early success stories and by 1978, the tenth anniversary of the yard, a mainly local management team was in place to run the yard. The yard also introduced a highly successful apprenticeship programme in 1972 – from which many of the skilled labour and second generation supervisory staff were to come from and was key in not just raising skills levels, but also in improving productivity of the local workforce necessary to become competitive in the ship repair market.

The view of the northern area of the shipyard from the jetty at Beaulieu House. The three floating docks can be seen on either side of a finger pier off the northwall: KFD Dock on the outside on the extreme right; President Dock on the inside (with the ship on which the funnel is seen); and Republic Dock to the left of President Dock.

The view of the northern area of the shipyard from the jetty at Beaulieu House. The three floating docks can be seen on either side of a finger pier off the northwall: KFD Dock on the outside on the extreme right; President Dock on the inside (with the ship on which the funnel is seen); and Republic Dock to the left of President Dock.

The yard as we see today, has seen a huge expansion in its capacity with the addition of many facilities since it inherited the already well equipped dockyard in 1968. In addition to the King George VI graving dock (referred to affectionately as ‘KG6′), which when it was completed in 1938 was described as the largest graving dock east of the Suez (and the largest naval graving dock in the world – more on it can be found in a previous post on the Naval Base), the yard now has a huge 400,000 DWT capacity graving dock – Premier Dock built next to KG6, as well as three large floating docks. Premier Dock was an early addition to the yard, having been completed in 1975 at a cost of $50 million and opened by the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Plans for the huge dock which measures some 384 metres in length and is 64 metres wide, built to meet a demand for the repair of huge Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCC) which were being constructed, were drawn up as early as in 1968, although the go-ahead was only given in 1972. The 150,000 DWT President Floating Dock which was one of the largest floating docks in Asia at the time was added in 1981.

A photograph of KG6 with the Queen Mary docked in it in August 1940 (source: Australian War Memorial  - 'Copyright expired - public domain').

A photograph of KG6 with the Queen Mary docked in it in August 1940 (source: Australian War Memorial – ‘Copyright expired – public domain’).

The sheer size of yard can probably only be fully appreciated attempting to walk from its entrance at Admiralty Road West to the far end of it located just west of the former Stores Basin of the Naval Base (now used by the US Navy as a logistics base) – an end which is visible from the old jetty at Beaulieu House. It does take a good half an hour to 45 minutes to do just that – an effort that I regularly had to make to get to Berths 8 and 9 of the yard during the six long months I spent undergoing training at the yard in 1983/1984 (so much so that many of us ended up bringing our own bicycles to reduce the effort). That six months is probably one that was for me best forgotten – the slump in demand for ship repair then meant many hours spent squatting in a designated area when there was no work assigned to the work gangs we were attached to. Tea-time was always a time to look forward to then – it provided that much needed break in monotony. As trainees, one of the tasks assigned was to head to kiosks located at strategic locations along the wharf sides to buy pre-packed packets of tea and coffee as well as snacks for the rest of the gang.

HMS Bulwark off the northwall of the Naval Base in the 1960s - the northwall is where the far end of the shipyard is today.

HMS Bulwark off the northwall of the Naval Base in the 1960s – the northwall is where the far end of the shipyard is today (source: http://www.acig.org/artman/publish/article_203.shtml).

The yard, besides being the location of a historically significant graving dock, is also where a conserved building in the form of the former Sembawang Fire Station can be found in. While it does look like the yard is a long time fixture in the area and so the future of this historical part of Sembawang is quite safe, we do know that the winds of change is right now sweeping across large parts of the area close by. The expansion of Yishun town and Sembawang town will bring high-rise developments that will do much to alter a unique character and charm that has been associated with the area since the days of the Naval Base. The area to the east of the yard is itself undergoing a tremendous change. A renewal programme will see the park feel a lot less like the quiet corner many like me had found an escape in, and more like any other overly manicured seaside spot in Singapore. That does I suppose does complement the private development just to its east. That development will see a shoreline where idyllic seaside kampungs could once be enjoyed and a shoreline I have continued to find an escape in, become a place in which that charm will no longer be found.

What will be one of the last escapes from the overly manicured world we now find ourselves in.

The shoreline along the former Kampong Wak Hassan is one of the last escapes from the overly manicured world we now find ourselves in we will soon lose.





The White Lady graces our shores

15 08 2012

I just love the sight of a tall ship and it is a shame that we get to see very little of them here in Singapore, and so, I have to settle for that occasional visit to one that comes alongside every once in a while. One such ship, the Chilean Navy training ship, the Buque Escuela (BE) Esmeralda, a four-masted barquentine, on a four-day visit to Singapore, was opened to the public over the weekend and I took the opportunity to pay a visit to it on Sunday. The Esmeralda, which means “Emerald” in Spanish, is affectionately known as “La Dama Blanca” or “The White Lady”, is currently on an eight-and-a-half month training voyage that will see her call at 13 ports in 10 countries – a voyage that started in her home port of Valparaíso on the 22nd of April this year and will end with her return to Valparaíso scheduled for 6th of January 2013. Singapore is her sixth port of call on the voyage which also sees her calling at ports in New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, India, Israel, Turkey, Spain, Colombia, and across the Panama Canal in Ecuador.

The BE Esmeralda seen here berthed at VivoCity is a four-masted training ship used by the Chilean Navy.

The Esmeralda, launched at the Spanish shipyard, Astilleros de Cádiz, in 1953, has had a rather interesting history. When her keel was laid in 1946 at what had been the Astillero Echevarrieta y Larrinaga de Cádiz, she was to have been built as replacement for her sister ship, the Spanish Navy training ship Juan Sebastián de Elcano and would have been named the ‘Juan de Austria’. What followed was a series of events that led to the ship being transferred to the Chilean Navy. Construction on the ship was halted in August 1947 due to massive explosions at the shipyard which not only caused damage to the ship, but also resulted in such damage to the yard itself that it brought the yard to its knees. The yard was eventually rescued by the Franco government in 1951. The government formed the Society of Cadiz Shipyards (Sociedad Astilleros de Cádiz S.A.) which the shipyard came under when the takeover was completed in 1952.

Boarding the Esmeralda.

A manually operated capstan on the poop deck.

The capstans are marked with the words Astilleros de Cádiz – the shipyard that built the BE Esmeralda.

Before the takeover was effected, Spain had entered into negotiations with Chile in 1950, on the repayment of debts it had incurred as a result of the Spanish Civil war, primarily from the import of thousands of tons of salt with a loan from the Chilean government. As Spain wasn’t in a position financially to repay the loan, an offer was made to repay this through manufactured products. This was accepted by the Chilean government and part of this included the transfer to the ship (approved in December 1951) which was valued at US$ 2.98 million. Construction then recommenced and the ship was launched on 12 May 1953 and christened the BE Esmeralda. She was finally completed some eight years after her construction was started and delivered on 15 June 1954 to the Republic of Chile, setting sail the following day. She arrived at her home port of Valparaíso on 1 September 1954 via Las Palmas, New Orleans, Panama and Tongoy.

Helm on the poop deck – the words ‘Vencer o Morir’ or ‘Conquer or Die’ the motto of the Chilean Navy is inscribed on it.

The Chilean Coat of Arms seen at the forward end of the deckhouse.

The ship is apparently the second longest tall ship with a length overall of 113 metres and a length (without her bowsprit) of 94.13 metres. Her two main masts are just a metre shy of the main mast of the STS Pallada which I visited in March 2010 at 48.5 metres in height. The steel hulled barquentine displaces a maximum of 3,673 tonnes. On its four masts and bowsprit, a total of 29 sails can be hosited, providing an total sail area of 2870 square metres and giving it a top speed with sails of 17.5 knots. More information on the very pretty ship can be found at the Chilean Navy’s page on the ship. The Esmeralda set sail on 14 August and is scheduled to arrive at her next port of call, Mumbai, on 30 August 2012. When she arrives back in Valparaíso at the end of the training voyage on 6 January 2013, she would have travelled some 30,414 nautical miles, spending a total of 208 days at sea.

The port sidelight.

A porthole on a skylight.

Brass nameplate for the door to the Midshipmen’s Navigation Room.

The bowsprit.

The fore mast.

A view of part of the fore deck with the fore mast.

The starboard anchor windlass and chain stopper.

The forward main mast and the forward end of the deckhouse.

Part of the rigging on the gunwale.

A tender on launching davits.

Close-up of a tender.

A pulley block.

A peek inside the deckhouse.

A cook in the ship’s galley.

A view of the lower deck.

Close-up of rope work.





A date with a lovely French lady

23 05 2011

I took the rare opportunity to pay a visit to a French lady that was in town recently. She is a lady of much beauty and the pride of the French (Naval Fleet that is) and was the largest of the warships that was in Singapore for the biennial IMDEX Asia Maritime Defense Exhibition which was held last week. The vessel, the FNS Mistral, is indeed a beauty, designated as a Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH), she has been provided with six helicopter landing spots on an expansive flight deck which features an island (offset) superstructure, resembling an aircraft carrier. In fact, she might be seen as a mini one, having the capability to deploy up to sixteen large helicopters that can be stowed in a large hangar below the flight deck. An LPH is traditionally designed to support long range troop deployment and amphibious assault, providing a force projection capability to the forces that deploy them, with the U.S. Navy having the largest fleet not just of LPHs but of purpose designed amphibious assault ships. The Mistral is designated by the French Navy as a Bâtiment de Projection et de Commandement (BPC), or a (Force) Projection and Command Ship, and is the lead of two Mistral class BPCs, the other being the FNS Tonnerre.

The French Navy LPH or BPC, the Mistral was in Singapore for a visit during the recently concluded IMDEA Asia exhibition.

Having previously visited similar but smaller vessels such as Landing Platform Docks which have a reduced capacity and hence capability as compared to the Mistral, including the FNS Foudre, and the ITS San Giusto, the Mistral seemed a lot larger and a generous amount of space that the smaller LPDs (the Foudre is 168 metres in length and the San Giusto, 133 metres compared to the Mistral’s 199 metres) do not afford. The Mistral represents a tremendous effort in coordination and engineering, not so much from its design but by the fact that the hull was constructed in two pre-outfitted sections, the aft section at Direction des Constructions Navales’ (DCN) yard in Brest (which also constructed the island superstructure) and the forward section at the well known passenger shipbuilder Chantiers de l’Atlantique in St-Nazaire. Various sub-assemblies were also outsourced in the process to contractors in various locations including to a Polish shipyard. The keel of the Mistral was laid in July 2002 and the vessel was launched in October 2004, before being commissioned in December 2006, thus being in service for some six and a half years already.

The Mistral, seen at berth at the finger pier in Changi Naval Base during IMDEX Asia, next to the USS McCampbell, an Arleigh Burke class Destroyer. The Mistral, which displaces 21,500t at Full Load, was the largest of the warships in town for the event.

A view of the Mistral's bow in the rain.

One of the large differences in the Mistral compared to the LPDs is that there are multiple decks for the stowage of vehicles and helicopters compared to a single deck in the case of most LPDs. This was very much in evidence from the guided walk through the less sensitive parts of the magnificent vessel led by a member of the ship’s crew, which started with a walk up the multiple decks, first to the Bridge, then to the Helicopter Control and Operations Rooms, and the Flight Deck before visiting the Helicopter Hangar immediately below the Flight Deck (helicopters are raised and lowered via two elevators), the hospital, the large Vehicle Deck below the Flight Deck and the Dockwell. A ramp allows vehicles and other material to be transported between the dockwell and the vehicle deck. The dockwell is floodable by ballasting and opening of a stern ramp with a water depth of 1 to 2 metres and lined with wooden sheathing to take punishment from the Landing Craft Mechanised (LCM), up to four of which can be accommodated, allowing for troops, vehicles and equipment to be deployed to shore. The Mistral also features a side ramp / door which can be used to load and discharge vehicles and equipment to the wharf.

A walk through the FNS Mistral

The wheelhouse console on the Bridge.

The Bridge was the first stop.

A view of the Flight Deck and ship's bow from the Bridge.

The Helicopter Control Room.

Windows of the Helo Control Room.

View of the Flight Deck from the Helo Control Room.

Helicopter ops are planned in the Helicopter Operations Room directly below the Helo Control Room.

Looking forward from amidships on the large Flight Deck which has six helo landing spots.

Looking aft over the expansive flight deck.

View of the Helo Control and Ops Rooms from the Flight Deck.

The walk through also provided an appreciation of the generously sized alleyways on the Mistral.

The hangar below the flight deck. Two elevators (one seen in the background) provide communication between the Flight Deck and the lower decks which includes the Hangar and the Vehicle Deck below.

The hangar can accommodate up to 16 large helicopters.

Another view of the Hangar.

A view at Hangar level.

Republic of Singapore Navy Officer Cadets posing for a photograph in the Hangar.

The Mistral is equipped with a large Hospital over 900 square metres on Deck 5 to support both military and humanitarian operations. This is expandable by use of the Hangar to provide space for up to 100 beds.

One of two Operating Theatres inside the Hospital.

The large (upper) Vehicle Deck. Together with the lower Vehicle Deck which is contiguous with the dockwell, the vehicle decks provide for the stowage of 60 armoured vehicles or 13 main battle tanks on 2 650 square metres of space.

Another view of the (upper) Vehicle Deck.

A ramp provides communication between the upper and lower Vehicle Decks (and the Dockwell).

The side door/ramp at the lower Vehicle Deck / Dockwell.

The floodable Dockwell accommodates up to four Landing Craft or two LCACs (Hovercraft).

Information on the Mistral from the DCN Brochure






An Italian lady visits the Harbourfront

22 11 2010

I was looking through some old digital photographs and discovered three I had taken on the deck of the ITS San Giusto, an Italian Navy Landing Platform Dock (LPD) on a visit here in 2001. That was just prior to the unfortunate series of events that took place on the 11th of September 2001, which as a result of, made public access to visiting naval ships extremely difficult.

On the deck of the San Giusto.

The deck of the San Giusto, which had been berthed at the Harbourfront Centre (which is now VivoCity), features an island superstructure arranged at the starboard side resembles that of an aircraft carrier. The San Giusto is actually one of a series of three vessels built by the Italian Navy utilising the same platform. Two of which, the San Giorgio and San Marco have a longer flight deck – not so much for fixed wing aircraft to take off from, but to accommodate larger rotary wing aircraft, functioning almost as a helicopter carrier.

The deck of the San Giusto resembles that of an aircraft carrier.

Landing Platform Docks can be classified under the wider category of Amphibious Transport Dock Ships – of which the US Navy operates the largest fleet of. Although generally seen as a long range vehicle used for the projection of power, allowing large quantities of personnel and military logistics to be transported over large sea distances and delivered ashore utilising smaller landing craft some of which are discharged from a dock or dockwell in the aft which can be flooded by partially submerging the vessel through a stern door or ramp, and some of which are launched from davits arranged on the ship’s sides, these vessels are particularly useful in delivering aid such as in the case of East Timor and in the aftermath of the Indonesian Tsunami. The Republic of Singapore Navy operates four similar vessels, which at 140 metres in length are slightly larger in size than the Italian ships which measure 133 metres in length, with a more conventional superstructure arrangement and regularly deploys the vessels on humanitarian missions – such as the successful ones to Meulaboh, Aceh in the wake of the tsunami.

The forward mooring deck ... notice what is now Harbourfront Centre on the top left corner of the picture (then called the World Trade Centre) - and what was the Harbourfront Centre (with the semi-circular awning) which has now been transformed into VivoCity.





A milestone in Singapore’s shipbuilding history: the launch of the RSS Fearless in 1995

24 02 2010

This eighteenth of February marks the fifteenth anniversary of a milestone in Singapore’s naval shipbuilding history: the launch of the Fearless Class Patrol Vessels. The 55 metre waterjet propelled vessels were launched by the wife of the then Deputy Prime Minister, Mrs Lee Hsien Loong, better known to us as Madam Ho Ching in 1995 at the Singapore Technologies Shipbuilding and Engineering (STSE) shipyard (now known as ST Marine) in Benoi Road. The then state-of-the-art vessels represented a breakthrough in Singapore’s naval ship design and shipbuilding – these were the first missile equipped combat vessels that were designed and constructed indigenously. I suppose there isn’t much fanfare these days about the Patrol Vessels, possibly because they have been somewhat overshadowed by the acquisition of the larger and more heavily armed Stealth Frigates, and perhaps they have intentionally been forgotten so as not to remind us of the tragic events surrounding the third vessel in the class – the RSS Courageous.

Cover of the ST Marine Brochure for the Patrol Vessel.

The Fearless class vessels, which are still in operation, and are equipped with a naval gun and surface-to-air missiles, and feature a locally designed round bilge hull form fitted with a twin engine propulsion system, were one of the first naval combat craft to feature waterjet propulsion, providing the vessel with excellent manoeuvrability. A total of twelve units were built by STSE, the first six of which were equipped with anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities being fitted with torpedoes and a hull-mounted sonar [Fearless (Pennant No. 94), Brave (95), Courageous (96), Gallant (97), Resilience (98) and Unity (99)]. The remaining six vessels in the class were not fitted out with ASW capabilities [Resilience (82), Unity (83), Sovereignty (84), Justice (85), Freedom (86) and Independence (87)].

RSS Fearless off Horsburgh Lighthouse/Pedra Branca in 2003, during search and rescue operations following the collision of RSS Courageous (Source: http://www.mindef.gov.sg).

Sunday Times report dated 19 Feb 1995 on the launching of the RSS Fearless.


The champagne bottle that did not break …

Traditionally, the naming (or christening) of a ship is done by breaking a bottle of champagne, and in the case of Naval tradition, the naming usually is carried out during the launching of the ship (when the ship is launched or lowered into the water for the very first time). This can be a spectacular event, as in the case of where the ship is side launched. In the case of RSS Fearless, the launching was only carried out ceremonially by lowering the vessel slowly in a syncrolift (a lift that lifts and lowers ships in and out of water), and the momentous event was to be remembered not for this, but for the fact that the champagne bottle refused to be broken. It finally yielded after several attempts, but as superstition would have it, it is bad luck if the champagne bottle does not break the first time. Perhaps this held true for the superstitious as the RSS Fearless was the lead ship of its class, and the third ship in the class, the RSS Courageous was meet with an accident which resulted in a tragic loss of lives.

Mdm. Ho Ching lets fly with the Champagne bottle ... but it doesn't break!

A second attempt at breaking the bottle - that failed too! The bottle finally broke after several repeated attempts.


Collision of RSS Courageous with ANL Indonesia on 3 January 2003

The RSS Courageous was involved in a collision with a container ship the ANL Indonesia off Pedra Branca on 3 January 2003. The collision sheared-off the stern section of the Courageous, and of the 44 crew onboard, eight were injured and another four, servicewomen resting in the aft section which was sheared-off, lost their lives. Two officers in command of the vessel at the time of the collision were subsequently found negligent, as their decision to steer the vessel to port and across the bow of the ANL Indonesia contravened Regulation 14 of the navigation rules of the road, the International Regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea (COLREGS).

Chart showing location of collision and the path taken by RSS Courageous (Source: Wikipedia).

The sheared-off stern section of the RSS Courageous being lifted off the seabed onto a barge on 14 Jan 2003 (Source: http://www.mindef.gov.sg).

That the vessel was able to remain afloat despite the loss of buoyancy of the sheared-off stern section and the breach in the watertight integrity of several other compartments (albeit with the quick action taken by the crew and supporting Police Coastguard officers in damage control) is a testament to the survivability of the vessel.









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