The messes, passageways and compartments of HMS St Albans echo to the sound of naval banter for the first time in four years.
Crew have moved back on board the warship to prepare her for renewed operations following a massive revamp in Devonport Naval Base.
After nearly 20 years of constant service in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Gulf, The Saint arrived in Plymouth in 2019 to begin preparations for the refit, known as a midlife upgrade, led by defense firm Babcock.
The scale of the work needed as well as the sheer technical complexity of the ship and the multitude of interconnected systems involved has required around 1.2 million working hours by sailors, civilian engineers and shipwrights, software specialists and many more.
Some 350 structural enhancements to strengthen St Albans and allow her to carry new equipment have been carried out, demanding more than four kilometers of welding.
All four diesel generators have been replaced, meaning the ship can produce more power, the main engines removed, overhauled, and reinserted—a complex engineering feat, and a first for her project team.
More than two dozen new pumps with four kilometers of pipework have been fitted, and some 10,000 square metres of paintwork refreshed – that’s the size of a football pitch.
And LED lighting has also been installed throughout the ship – more efficient, more reliable, and brighter.
On the fighting front, all weapons and sensors have been upgraded. The original Sea Wolf air defense system has been replaced by Sea Ceptor which, together with a new air-search radar, Artisan 997, makes St Albans far more capable at tracking (more than 900 potential targets at ranges beyond 100 miles) and taking them out if necessary.
One magazine has been adapted for the future anti-surface guided weapon system – successor to Sea Skua – which has recently entered service, aviation facilities enhanced to support the latest variants of Merlin, Wildcat and most NATO maritime helicopters.
And as a dedicated submarine hunter, the ship has been fitted with Sonar 2150 in place of 2050, which can detect underwater threats at greater range and is easier to operate.
And the living spaces for the 185 men and women – messes, bunk spaces, toilets, showers, galley – have been ripped out and replaced.
Looking forward to getting her shipmates into shape – physically and collectively as a fighting team is Leading Physical Trainer Mabli Davies said:
“I’m embracing the challenges ahead as stepping stones for personal and professional growth,” she said. “With a focus on fostering the well-being of our crew, I eagerly anticipate our evolution from a group of individuals to a cohesive and resilient team.”
The upgrades will make HMS St Albans the Royal Navy’s most advanced frigate when she returns to sea over the winter to begin trials, working all the way through to front-line training allowing her to deploy around the globe again.
Senior Naval Officer Lieutenant Commander Byron Linn said, “This marks the start of a journey that will bring St Albans back to front-line operations. A huge amount of work has been completed by my Ships Company, Babcock and other supporting contractors to get to this point, and it was important to mark the occasion properly.
“Our focus now is to prepare St Albans for her return to sea. We have a long journey still to complete but my team are ready for the challenge.”