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Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Going to war on a shoe string.

The date is 2003 and yours truly was off to Iraq. My vessel of choice (Actually no choice) was the RFA Argus.

The Argus was a containership that was bought and converted to carry out two roles. The primary role was to perform as a helicopter training ship, to enable pilots to practise all sorts of evolutions before deploying to various naval vessels.

The secondary role was to undertake the job of Primary casualty receiving ship. Number one hanger had been converted into a state of the art, hundred bed hospital.

In their wisdom the PTB had neglected or ill thought out a number of items of immense interest to me. After all, avoiding premature death is in my own interest.

The vessel was supposed to be able to survive a chemical attack. As the assistant NBCDO (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical warfare, and Damage control Officer), it was my responsibility to rectify any defects.

One primary defence against NBC is to pressurise the inside of the ship by drawing in filtered air and closing all doors and ports (Windows).

There was only one slight problem with this. This converted merchant ship had hundreds of opening ports and doors. After days and days of sealing openings with gaffer tape and tins of expanding foam my staff(Two), plus a bored surgeon Captain, finally managed to achieve pressurisation.

The second defence is to pre-wet the ship. This is done by having pop up nozzles supplied from the ship’s High pressure salt water main, to spray the ship’s outside to wash off any contaminants. This was operated by zonal air operated master valves controlled from the NBCD control room. Solved. After crawling around trying to trace the pneumatic piping for leaks, I finally traced the fault. The master pneumatic supply pipe had never actually been connected to a source of compressed air. A bodge up comprising rubber hose and fittings, sorted out another cockup.

Another item of concern was the emergency generator fitted to supply the hospital. One of our ships that was being disposed off was the source of the generator. The problem that reared it’s ugly head was it’s generating capacity was too great. The hospital’s max capacity being 200 kw and the generator’s max being 1.2 Mw. Resulting in an oil change after a week’s running at light load. Now, if it was me under the knife on the operating table, I wouldn’t want the surgeons to be in darkness for four hours. Fix, a temporary load bank was wired in to the circuit. Good one you say. Nope. This was a piece of kit bolted onto the deck, just forward of the funnel, designed to use kilowatts and turn them into heat.  Every heat seeking missile in the world would have thought Christmas had come early.

As I noted before, the hospital complex was most certainly state of the art with two operating theatres, sterilisers, and oxygen. Whoah. Where does the oxygen come from? Well. some bright spark had an oxygen making plant situated, complete with storage bottles, directly above the hospital, just under the flight deck. Just imagine a bomb hitting that!

And finally (And I’m sure you’ll be pleased about that).

You remember those pneumatically operated pre-wet valves. The control valves were mounted in NBCD HQ. When the appropriate pre-wet valve was in the correct position, the control valve would vent into NBCD HQ. Of course the design fault here was that the air was from an unfiltered compressor situated in the main machinery space. A quick fix, which Apollo 13 would by proud, involved more duct tape and a plethora of S10 respirator canisters.

The Moral of the story is:

How the fuck did this pass muster for ten years or so, seeing that there is a supposedly fool proof computerised programme to do away with this negligence?


  1. I can't answer your question, but thank fuck there are still people around with "improvisation" skills...

  2. Aah The Argus...

    My son was a WAFU on board this splendid ship...dong a vert-rep off Vigo one day he happened to be on a deck-lift, supervising the transfer of replenishments to below deck when the hydraulics and safety interlocks failed and the lift went into free fall with him standing on it... it was a short ride thank god but nevertheless left him with spinal severe compression injuries. He was airlifted off to hospital in Vigo before being airlifted again back to Haslar Hospital. The injuries left him with a weakened spine that ultimately led to a medical discharge from the RN.

  3. A 1mw heater sat on deck, next to an oxygen factory.

    You have the most awesome stories.

  4. I never did tell the horror of nearly riding the biggest cantilever lift in europe, in a freefall descent into the hanger.

  5. I may write about drug busting in the carribean. That was fun.


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