British military sealift vessel Anvil Point visits Cape Town

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The British military sealift vessel Anvil Point recently arrived in Cape Town harbour for refuelling and fresh supplies.

There are two nations who are continuously moving military cargoes around the world, on behalf of their national Armies, Navies and Air Forces for purposes of pre-positioning, training, or ongoing military operations.

The military transport fleets of both the United States and the United Kingdom continue to criss-cross the globe on behalf of their military and defence requirements. There was a time when the American military sealift transports were regular callers in South African ports, mainly for bunkering, but now they bypass South Africa completely, even with the Houthi menace forcing them once more to take the longer Cape sea route to, and from the United States.

The same can be said for the British sealift vessels, in that they normally proceed via the Suez Canal, when heading into the Indian Ocean or Persian Gulf. However, unlike the Americans, the British sealift vessels are calling at South African ports for bunkering. Cape Town had already seen one of them back in early February, when Hartland Point was heading back to the UK, after calling at four British military bases in the Middle East and East Africa. That this traffic is regular is borne out by the fact that recently yet another one of the class called at a South African port.

On 14th April, at 07:00 in the morning, the British Military Sealift vessel Anvil Point (IMO 9248540) arrived off the Table Bay anchorage, from Gibraltar, and went to anchor for a short three hour period. Later than morning, at 10:00, she entered Cape Town harbour and proceeded into the Duncan Dock, going alongside the outer Eastern Mole berth. As always, this non-commercial berth is the transit stop for many of those vessels requiring an uplift of bunkers, stores and fresh provision.

Built in 2002 by the famous Harland and Wolff shipyard, at Belfast in Northern Ireland, and the same place where the great ‘Titanic’ was built, ‘Anvil Point’ is 193 metres in length, and has a deadweight of 13 274 tons. Her claim to fame was that she was the last major vessel built at Harland and Wolff. She is powered by two MaK 7M43 seven cylinder, four stroke, main engines providing 17,130 bhp (12,600 kW), and driving two controllable pitch propellers for a service speed of 17 knots. For added manoeuvrability she has a bow transverse thruster.

It is a rare occurrence for a Ro-Ro vessel to call into Cape Town, and wheeled cargo on Anvil Point is loaded via a Stern Ramp. With three vehicle decks, she has 2 650 lane metres available, which gives her the capability of loading up to 220 vehicles, including 130 armoured fighting vehicles, and 70 military trucks, plus support vehicles, and ammunition, totalling 13 000 tons.

She has a container carrying capacity of 668 TEU, with deck plugs provided for 30 reefers. For loading, and discharging her container capacity in ports with no infrastructure, Anvil Point has a MacGregor deck crane with a lifting capacity of 40 tons, which is offset to the starboard side of the vessel. She has a range of 9 200 nautical miles, she has accommodation for a crew of up to 22, although she often operates with a crew of 18, and she had additional accommodation provided for a further 12 persons.

The fourth of six sisterships, built to an upgraded, popular German design known as the Flensburger RoRo-2700 series, all six sealift vessels are known as the Point Class, and all were named after Lighthouses of the Trinity House Lighthouse Service in the United Kingdom, with Anvil Point Lighthouse being built in 1881, and located on the Dorset coast, close to the town of Swanage, and acting as a Waypoint Sector light for shipping navigating the English Channel.

In 1998, as a result of a Strategic Defence Review, a national need for specially designed roll-on, roll-off, transport vessels, with strengthened decks for the carriage of heavy military armoured vehicles, was identified, and with all vessels being contracted to the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence. They were to be owned, operated and managed by British companies, and be operated by a civilian crew.

The current contract runs until the end of 2024, with a potential five year extension to 2030, should a new agreement be concluded that requires a new class of vessel. In October 2021 the Ministry of Defence issued a Request for Information (RFI) to interested parties for an Interim Strategic Sealift (SSL-I) capability that will begin in January 2025 and run for at least five years. A more detailed Prior Information Notice (PIN) was issued in January 2022 to assist potential providers in preparing bids for the contract.

Of the six vessels built for the current contract, two have since been sold on for further trading, with the remaining four, including Anvil Point, operating on permanent engagement on military transport activities worldwide. The four ships are also nominally available to the NATO Sealift Consortium, which includes eleven European nations. The four ships, with a total of 9 200 lane metres, make the United Kingdom the largest single contributor to the NATO Sealift Consortium, which itself has a total of 15 ships and a capacity of about 33 700 lane metres.

Similarly, as with Royal Fleet Auxiliary crews, the crews on the Sealift vessels are civilian, but considered to be part of the Naval Reserve, and will come under Naval Discipline in times of conflict. The all British crews are eligible to be called out as Sponsored Royal Navy Reservists (under the Reserve Forces Act 1996) if operational requirements demand. This status gives the crew military status under the terms of the Geneva Convention, when sailing in war zones.

Owned by Foreland Shipping Ltd, of London, whose FSL company logo is displayed on her funnel, Anvil Point is operated by Andrew Weir Shipping Ltd, of London, and managed by AW Ship Management Ltd, also of London. Andrew Weir is a name with a great, historical, pedigree, as they were the owners of the Bank Line, whose general cargo vessels regularly called at South African ports on their round the world cargo service. The company also operated the RMS St Helena mail ship.

The routing of Anvil Point is very similar, but in reverse, to the route being followed by her sistership Hartland Point which arrived in Cape Town on 4 February. As with Anvil Point, the arrival of both vessels is based entirely on the Houthi menace, and the need to avoid the risks of a British vessel making a transit of the Red Sea.

She departed the Marchwood Military Port, near Southampton in the United Kingdom on 24 March, after a one week turnaround. From there Anvil Point made her way to Gibraltar, which is a British Colony located at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea, and the location of a large Tri-Services military presence. She spent just over one day in Gibraltar, sailing for Cape Town on 28 March.

After just 12 hours alongside in Cape Town, Anvil Point sailed at 22:00 in the late evening of 14 April, bound for the port of Duqm, in Oman. Here the British Military operate the United Kingdom Joint Logistics Support Base (UKJLSB), which is based in the port, and facilitates the deployment of naval forces in the Indian Ocean to provide security patrols, which are provided by the Royal Navy Littoral Response Group (South). Duqm also supports the Joint Training Area (JTA), where joint British and Omani Army training takes place.

There was an indication that ‘Anvil Point’ would also be calling at Mombasa during this voyage, where the British Army Training Unit Kenya (BATUK) operates from three bases throughout Kenya, and where up to six Infantry Battalions exercise each year. The permanent staff of 100 military personnel in BATUK includes Royal Engineers who provide essential infrastructure, and development projects for the local communities, and Royal Army Medical Corps staff who provide free healthcare provision and medical assistance to the local Kenyan population.

In June 2021 ‘Anvil Point’ reported that she had rescued 25 migrants of sub-Sahara origin, when 230 nautical miles Southeast from the port of Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands, and northwest of the port of Dakhla, in the disputed territory of the Western Sahara. She diverted to Las Palmas with the rescued immigrants. At the time Anvil Point was on a voyage from Marchwood Military Port to Georgetown on Ascension Island, in the tropical South Atlantic Ocean.

Later that year, in October 2021, when returning to Marchwood Military Port and sailing off the north coast of Spain, Anvil Point requested the medical evacuation of a crew member, when 75 nautical miles northwest of A Coruña. The Rescue Coordination Centre at Finisterre, in Northern Spain mobilized a Search and Rescue helicopter, an Airbus H225 Super Puma helicopter, which airlifted the crewman, and flew him to A Coruña airport, where he was transferred directly to a local hospital for further treatment.

Written by Jay Gates and republished with permission from Africa Ports & Ships. The original article can be found here.