In a surprise announcement, the UK Ministry of Defence has revealed that the 24,000-tonne Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) replenishment ships Fort Austin (pictured) and Fort Rosalie are to be sold to Egypt. Both vessels have been laid up for some time, mainly because their replenishment-at-sea rigs are not compatible with the Royal Navy’s Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, and were thought to be destined for scrapping. They will be replaced in RFA service by a new class of ship, due to be ordered in the near future.
The 1970s-vintage vessels reportedly remain in good overall condition, and Cairo is negotiating with UK shipyard Cammell Laird for both ships to receive major refits, probably including replacement of their main engines.
An outward-looking government, and a strong economy, has facilitated radical expansion of the Egyptian Navy (EN) in recent years, as Cairo seeks to protect its offshore interests and to extend its regional influence. The EN order of battle now includes modern, helicopter-capable amphibious warfare vessels, submarines and escorts, some indigenously-built, some sourced from a number of nations. The two big ex-RFA ships are a cost-effective way of plugging an important gap in the Egyptian fleet, and will facilitate extended offshore operations.
The vessels can each transfer some 3,600 tonnes of stores, and with a large hangar and two helicopter flight decks, have a strong aviation support capability.