• The Spanish Replenishment Oiler ESPS Cantabria. [Photo:Defence]
    The Spanish Replenishment Oiler ESPS Cantabria. [Photo:Defence]

The Spanish combat replenishment ship Cantabria leaves Sydney early in November following nine months in Australian waters supporting the RAN in what her commanding officer, Commander Jose Nieto, describes as an operation without fault.

“We were able to assist our RAN friends while (HMAS) Success was undergoing maintenance, and we in turn have benefitted greatly from a unique training opportunity,” he says.

The 19,500 tonne Cantabria arrived in Australia in February after a 41-day passage from Spain, with 12 RAN personnel embedded with her 146-strong crew. 

They, and about another 300 RAN personnel who have spent time aboard Cantabria during her time in Australia, were tasked with familiarising themselves with ship systems that also equip the RAN’s forthcoming Canberra class Landing Helicopter Docks and Hobart class  Air Warfare Destroyers.

These range from the integrated platform management system to the water distilling plant and remote control valve actuators.

Operations have included 63 replenishments at sea with more than 10,500 cubic metres of marine fuel transferred to Australian, US and New Zealand ships.

One first was the vertical replenishment of an Anzac class frigate by an MRH-90, with the helicopter transferring 12,000 kg of stores from Cantabria to HMAS Parramatta.

Another was the embarkation on Cantabria of two AS350 Squirrel helicopters of 723 Squadron, with the two aircraft conducting simultaneous visual and instrument approaches to the flight deck.

Commander Nieto, a former Harrier pilot, says 100 per cent system reliability meant no program changes had been necessary during the ship’s time in Australia.

A parallel benefit of Cantabria’s time in Australia has been the opportunity for the RAN to assess its suitability as a potential replacement for HMAS Sirius and HMAS Success.

There’s plenty of likely competition, but RAN personnel aboard the Spanish ship spoke highly of its capabilities and the ship itself, after four years in commission and 167 sea days on its current deployment, was in immaculate condition.

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