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Merchant Vessels

Volume 300: debated on Wednesday 12 November 1997

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To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the importance his Department attaches to the role of British merchant vessels and merchant seafarers during (a) peacetime exercises, (b) support and re-supply operations and (c) times of crisis and war. [15434]

The Government fully recognise the importance of British merchant shipping and seafarers in the defence context. Indeed, the Department maintains one of the largest civilian fleets in Europe in the form of the specialist ships and civilian crews of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service.We must acknowledge, however, that in today's security environment, a substantial element of any logistic shipping requirement can be satisfied through the international market, where vessels need not necessarily have to be British flagged or crewed as demonstrated during the Gulf War, and in subsequent operations and exercises. The Ministry of Defence is always eager to charter British flagged and crewed ships where they offer best value for money, but we have found that, in general, they are normally fully committed to regular trading activities. Nevertheless, so far during 1997, 24 British registered merchant ships have been on charter to the Ministry of Defence.While we would plan in any serious crisis or war to charter shipping on the worldwide market, we are very conscious that a core of suitable British flagged or owned ships, which could be used under compulsory measures and manned by UK seafarers, is important.My Department's future requirements for merchant shipping will, of course, follow on from the conclusions of the Strategic Defence Review.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will list the name of each merchant vessel, and its country of registration, chartered by his Department for (a) exercises and (b) military support and re-supply operations since 1 January. [15435]

The names of merchant vessels and their country of registration for (a) exercises (including training) and (b) military support and resupply operations since 1 January 1997 are as follows:

NamesCountry of registration
Vessels chartered for exercises (including training)
Cap AfriqueFrance
Dana MaximaDenmark
Danica RedDenmark
GuyaneSt. Vincent and Grenadines
King of ScandinaviaDenmark
NorbayGreat Britain
NorcapeGreat Britain
Pride of FlandersGreat Britain
Pride of SuffolkGreat Britain
Prince of ScandinaviaDenmark
Vega (x 2)Antigua
Vessels chartered for military support and resupply operations
Afon CefniGreat Britain
Arktis CarrierDenmark
Ben EllenGreat Britain
Ben MayeGreat Britain
Bergen VikingBahamas
BostonianGreat Britain
CameronGreat Britain
Cap Afrique (x 3)France
CardissaIsle of Man
Fleur de LyseSpain
Indomitable*Great Britain
Jolly IndacoItaly
Julia MGreat Britain
Karin CatDenmark
Katherine LucyGreat Britain
LlandoveryGreat Britain
Loyal MediatorGreat Britain
Marine Explorer*Great Britain
Maersk Ascension*Isle of Man
Maersk BothniaNorway
Maersk Gannet*Isle of Man
Northella*Great Britain
Oil Mariner*Great Britain
Proud Seahorse*Great Britain
San VincenteGermany
Saint Brandan*Great Britain
Sea MaidGreat Britain
SirenGreat Britain
Villars (x 2)Switzerland
Some vessels were chartered on more than one occasion and those indicated with an asterisk are on long term charter.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the adequacy of the number of United Kingdom merchant vessels available to meet defence needs; and if he will make a statement. [15433]

The availability of militarily useful British merchant ships which might be used for defence purposes is kept under regular review as part of our normal planning process. Current figures indicate there are generally enough militarily useful ships for perceived defence needs. My Department, in conjunction with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, regularly monitors the position. The hon. Member will understand that our future requirements for merchant shipping will, of course, follow on from the conclusions of the Strategic Defence Review.