RFA Gold Rover performs her last replenishment at sea

Topic: Fighting armsRoyal Auxiliary Fleet

This is the sight you will never see again. Off the west coast of Africa frigate HMS Portland takes on fuel from tanker RFA Gold Rover – the very last time the oldest vessel in the Naval Service will provide ‘black gold’ to fuel front-line operations.

The 11,000-tonne support vessel is due to decommission in the UK next month – 43 years after first pumping oil into the tanks of a Royal Navy warship.

She’s the last of five Rover-class ships built for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in the late 1960s/early 1970s.

In recent times, the Rovers have spent the bulk of their time south of the Equator, providing fuel for Royal Navy vessels on patrol in the South Atlantic.

Portland has been no exception. Since beginning the second half of her deployment (the first was in the Gulf/Indian Ocean), the frigate has been almost constantly accompanied by Gold Rover as she visited South America, the Falklands, South Georgia, the remote island of Tristan da Cunha and finally West Africa.

In that time, 1,788 ‘cubes’ (cubic metres) of F76 ‘dieso’ (diesel oil) – nearly 1.8m litres (enough to fill your car’s tank more than 20,000 times) have been transferred from tanker to frigate at around 66p per litre…or a total of £1.2m.

After the final top up, Portland – coming to the end of a marathon nine-month deployment – put into Freetown in Sierra Leone for a short visit flag-flying visit.

Gold Rover’s age – and changing maritime legislation – means she’ll be retired upon her return in favour of the first of the giant new Fleet tankers, RFA Tidespring, which has just begun her 16,000-mile journey from South Korea to the UK.