Sea Transportation: Container Ship Morphed Into A Naval Replenishment Vessel


February 14, 2018: The Royal Canadian Navy has its new replenishment ship; MV Asterix in service. Rather than a specially designed and built replenishment ship the MV Asterix is a refurbished 24,000 ton container ship built in 2010 (with a crew of 24 and top speed of 38 kilometers an hour). MV Asterix began training in January 2018, and has already conducted ship-to-ship refueling. More such training will take place until Asterix is declared fit for long voyages

Asterix underwent two years of reconstruction to turn it into a 26,000 ton replenishment ship with a top speed of 41 kilometers an hour, a crew of 150 and the ability to carry up to 350 people. There is a landing pad and hanger space for two CH-47 class helicopters. Ten boats and landing craft are carried. The ship carried 7,000 tons of maritime diesel fuel and 980 tons of JP5 aviation fuel. The water purification plant can produce 400 tons of drinkable water a day. Asterix can also handle disaster relief, with a medical treatment space for up to 60 patients. By removing containers and using cargo and other spaces up to 350 passengers can be carried for short periods. The Asterix is under lease from the civilian company for five years with an option for another ten. The ship is operated by 36 civilian personnel plus 67 naval personnel to handle refueling at sea and transferring cargo as well. There is space for another fifty sailors.

Canada has been forced to use commercial shipping companies to obtain two supply ships for refueling and transferring other needed items to Canadian warships at sea. Using commercial ships for this is nothing new. Before the development of specialized naval supply ships in the early 20th century the job had long been done by civilian ships. But the widespread use of oil as ship fuel in the early 2oth century made it possible (with some special equipment and trained operators) to refuel warships at sea while both ships were moving. Same deal with transferring other supplies (food, spare parts and so on). These techniques enabled the warships to keep moving, often essential in a combat zone or on your way to one. However the need for special equipment and trained personnel meant it was easier for the navy to build, crew and operate these ships.

But like aerial refueling (almost exclusively used by the military) a growing number of nations have found it less expensive and just as effective to use civilian contractors (who buy surplus aerial tankers or convert large cargo transports to the task). The military is regularly outsourcing flight training and all sorts of technical support services. So it was no big leap to do this for warship resupply at sea.

The main reason Canada went this route was because political and bureaucratic delays in building two new naval resupply ships to replace the two elderly (46 years in service) ones that had to be retired in 2015. The commercial ships will use largely navy crews so that these sailors will maintain their skills for when the newly built Protecteur-class naval resupply ships are ready for service in the early 2020s. These ships are being built in Germany and are slightly larger than the Asterix. In the meantime the Canadians have relied on allies to temporarily provide supply ships until the interim civilian ships are ready to go.




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