30 Nov 2017

Mare Harbour revisited: Falklands upgrade on finishing straight

Defence features writer Robert Atherton revisits the Defence Infrastructure Organisation’s Falklands initiative and speaks exclusively to VolkerStevin about the complexities of the much-needed Mare Harbour upgrade.

Defence Online has written previously about the Defence Infrastructure Organisation’s (DIO) hugely ambitious £180 million modernisation of the Falkland Islands – specifically the £22 million transformation of Mare Harbour on East Falkland which serves RAF Mount Pleasant.

That upgrade, which involves the design and build of new berths to accommodate larger Point Class vessels, has since been entrusted to VolkerStevin, and the marine civil engineering specialist is now putting the finishing touches to the complex project.

The ‘roll-on, roll-off’ (RoRo) berth was built in 1985 as part of the wider Mare Harbour works and in response to the 1982 Falklands Conflict. According to John Lovell, Project Manager at VolkerStevin: “Mare Harbour was designed with Sir Class vessels in mind, measuring 140 metres in length and weighing 8500 tonnes. But the ships that now replenish supplies are significantly bigger.”

For comparison, Point Class vessels measure 193 metres long and weigh 23,000 tonnes, and their significantly increased length has proven problematic in the past. “A shipping vessel, the MV Hurst Point, broke free from its moorings on 30 November 2009 – a result of bad weather – causing structural damage to both the moorings and the jetty,” noted Lovell. “The works that we are now undertaking will provide an upgraded RoRo berth suitable for Point Class vessels.”

Specifically, the RoRo berth is to be extended via brand-new fenders and mooring piles, enabling larger vessels to safely dock. The upgrade will replace walkways along the berth itself and introduce lighting improvements, capstans and a PA system. Firefighting capabilities will also be renewed while a small boat pontoon will be replaced with a modern equivalent and linkspan.

This is no small feat, however – the Falkland Islands are remote and resources are scarce, especially where plant and equipment is concerned. As such, VolkerStevin made a preliminary visit to determine the capability of the local supply chain. There, the team determined which services and equipment could be sourced locally and which they would have to bring themselves.

Lovell explained: “This early planning process ensured we had the right amount of redundancy in our critical plant and equipment, and the personnel necessary to deliver spares and tools for plant and equipment repair, without being reliant on bringing critical spares and personnel to site.”

While the risk assessment required a substantial investment, both in terms of parts and equipment and much-needed project management time, it helped VolkerStevin to establish a robust repair and maintenance programme for the duration of the works.

Crucially, it takes a minimum of six weeks to ship materials from Europe to the Falkland Islands. The airbridge has limited capacity for airfreight and commercial flights are at a premium, meaning all materials must be planned for eight weeks in advance of their eventual use. It’s a big ask – construction is notoriously fraught with snares and snags, yet here the slightest setback could cause calamity.

The remoteness of the Falklands led to a number of logistical challenges and VolkerStevin appreciated that the success of the project was dependent upon having a committed workforce. “The upgrade required long and difficult working hours with personnel away from their homes for extended periods of time,” said Lovell. “We had to make sure that we chose the right personnel who could contend with these conditions.”

Fortunately, VolkerStevin is well versed in marine infrastructure, having previously developed modular solutions that minimise on-site construction. That approach has served the Falklands well, particularly with adverse weather conditions a concern. VolkerStevin has also made canny use of the wider VolkerWessels UK group, drawing on a network of shipping and project logistics expertise for remote locations.

VolkerStevin is now nearing the finishing line. Only mechanical and electrical works and site clearance remain, and the engineering specialist is currently readying a ship laden with marine plant and equipment for a return journey to Europe. By the time the New Year arrives, Mare Harbour will be fit for the 21st century.

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For more information, visit: www.volkerstevin.co.uk

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