17 Oct 2017 - By
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Shoring up the Falklands: defence infrastructure upgrade takes shape

Defence features writer Robert Atherton explores the many ways in which the UK Government is modernising aged infrastructure across the Falkland Islands.

The sovereignty of the Falkland Islands has long been contested by Argentina. It remains a matter of some concern for the UK Government even now, despite last year’s promising détente.

And so, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the Ministry of Defence via its Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) has pledged £180million to modernise outdated defence infrastructure across East and West Falkland.

The £180 million modernisation programme is due to take place over a ten-year period, with £60million allocated to a power station upgrade at Mount Pleasant Camp, £22million earmarked for berthing improvements at Mare Harbour, and £ 2 million ring-fenced for additional accommodation at Radar Heads.

Now, engineering specialist VolkerStevin has begun in earnest the multimillion-pound contract to shore up defence infrastructure along the berths of Mare Harbour on East Falkland.

For Mare Harbour this means the design and construction of new berths to accommodate larger Point Class vessels, in addition to ‘roll-on, roll-off’ (RoRo) capability for the Falkland Islands Resupply Ship (FIRS). The FIRS ferries much- needed military supplies hardware, provisions and infrastructure, together with a small amount of commercial freight to the islands throughout the year.

The relative remoteness of East Falkland provides its own unique challenges, however. Earlier in the year, a chartered vessel embarked on a five-week trip from Rotterdam to the islands bringing with it the necessary plant, equipment and materials, while the piles, fabricated steel pile heads and fenders were shipped directly from Shanghai.

Complicating matters are the islands stringent biosecurity measures, which require all imported items to be checked thoroughly beforehand.

Currently, piles for the main RoRo berth are being installed and grouted into drilled rock sockets at a depth of up to 20 metres. The piles themselves are 35 metres long and weigh up to 75 tonnes. To date, 14 of the 16 piles required have been installed.

Once complete, VolkerStevin will fit the pile heads, walkway bridges and fenders before dismantling the marine plant, which will be loaded onto a chartered vessel and shipped back to Europe.

According to Rob Coupe, Managing Director of VolkerStevin: “The project is logistically challenging and transporting thousands of tonnes of materials and equipment to the other side of the world is no simple task. After several months of detailed planning, we are pleased construction is now well underway and due to complete on time.”

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon commented: “Improving Mare Harbour is an important part of our major investment plan to modernise the Falkland Islands infrastructure. This will boost the capability of our Armed Forces and help support greater economic opportunities for the islanders.”

At present, around 1200 military and civilian personnel are housed on the Falklands in support of defensive air, naval and land assets.

These include RAF Typhoon aircraft, helicopters, Royal Navy patrol vessels and an entire Army infantry company.

The hope now is that the UK can build up on recent diplomatic momentum, strengthening ties with Argentina while giving greater assurance to the islanders regarding their safety and security.

“The right of the islanders to determine their own future was settled over 30 years ago and confirmed by the recent referendum, concluded Fallon.

Now we want to build a better relationship with the new Argentinian government, as neighbours in the South Atlantic and fellow G20 members.”

Overall completion of the Mare Harbour contract is scheduled for December 2017.

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

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