Naval Visits – RFA ARGUS A 135 – 23-25.11.2022

On Wednesday 23rd November, 2022 the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Role 3 Casualty Treatment/Aviation Training Ship RFA ARGUS A 135 passed Grand Harbour, Malta breakwaters at 1026 hrs after embarking pilot at Marsaxlokk Harbour Pilot Station 2 Bravo due to heavy swell off Grand Harbour (OGH) during her maiden call.

She was originally built as the container ship CONTENDER BEZANT built in Italy by Societa Italiana Ernersto Breda now Fincantieri Marghera at Venezia for Contender 2 Ltd (Sea Containers Ltd) of Hamilton, Bermuda as yard no 293 of which she was launched on 28th November, 1980. On 31st July 1981 she was completed as a 1,108 TEU capacity container ship

In May 1982 during the Falklands War ( 10 week war – 2nd April to 14th June,1982) she was requisitioned  by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and given a basic conversion at HMNB Devonport to allow her to operate helicopters and Harrier jump jets in the transport role for Operation Corporate, the British military deployment to the Falkland Islands. She arrived in the area shortly after the Argentinian surrender and following a refit to her original configuration, was returned to her owners in November

After the Falklands War, the MoD investigated the replacement of the small helicopter support ship RFA ENGADINE K 08 , commissioning Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering (VSEL) make a “concept study” resulting in the decision to convert a merchant ship to operate anti-submarine helicopters and with the ability to ferry the Sea Harrier aircraft. In December 1983 the MoD invited British Shipbuilders of Birkenhead and Harland and Wolff in Belfast to tender on the building of a new Air Training Ship (ATS) or to purchase and convert an existing ship along the lines proposed by VSEL. By coincidence both tenders proposed converting the laid up CONTENDER BEZANT and in March 1984, a fixed price contract was awarded to Harland and Wolff. Accordingly, she was purchased by the company for the estimated price of £18 million on 14 March 1984. After a four-year conversion, the ship entered RFA service in 1988 and was commissioned on Wednesday 1st June.

During the Gulf War in 1991 she was fitted with a fully functional hospital, which has since been modified and extensively augmented with specialist equipment, providing 100 beds. The ship is equipped with an intensive care unit and can provide medical x-ray and CT-scan services. Casualties can be quickly transferred from the deck directly into the triage  area. Since 2009, the ship’s role as a Primary Casualty Receiving Ship has been her primary role, although she continues to be used for aviation training.

RFA ARGUS A 135 does not comply with the Geneva Convention’s definition of a ‘hospital ship’ as she is fitted with self-defence guns and decoys and may have operational units embarked. When she is not operating as a Primary Casualty Receiving Facility (PCRF), she plays the role for aviation training to the helicopter pilots of the Fleet Air Arm and has her own mini Air Traffic Control (ATC) centre from which flight operations are managed.

Apart from lifeboats she was seen with 2 Pacific 24 (Pac 24) 7.8 metre ribs that was introduced in 2020.

On her flight deck she had 2 Royal Navy Merlin HC3 helicopters.

And interesting hangar with 1 Royal Navy Merlin HC.3 ; 1 Royal Navy AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat HMA2; 2 Army Air Corps AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat AH1 helicopters and military vehicles.

On the morning of Friday 25th November RFA ARGUS A 135 left Grand Harbour from Boiler Wharf.

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Published – Tuesday 6th December, 2022