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Gold on a grey day as Navy’s oldest active vessel sails into harbour for the last time
22 February 2017

The 43-year career of stalwart tanker RFA Gold Rover came to an end today as she entered Portsmouth for the final time – minutes after a wartime bomb was moved from the harbour.

RN divers dealt with the German 250kg device which was dredged up overnight as part of preparatory work for the arrival of the Navy’s new carriers.

Pictures: LPhot Dave Jenkins, FRPU East

NOT even German bombers could stop the last act in tanker RFA Gold Rover’s career.

Just minutes after RN bomb disposal experts had safely moved a Luftwaffe bomb, the tanker’s 43-year active life came to an end as she made her way into Portsmouth and Fountain Lake Jetty, where over the coming weeks all things useful will be stripped out as the ship is prepared for the breaker’s yard.

Given her length of service, the tanker was permitted the rare honour – for a ship in the RFA – of flying a decommissioning pennant, a long very thin version of the Blue Ensign auxiliaries hoist. Based on a combination of the length of the career and length of the ship, it stretched for 140 metres (460ft).

Dredging in Portsmouth Harbour to clear the way for the Navy’s new carriers dug up yet another relic of the Blitz, this time a 250kg bomb snared by the excavator head of the barge carrying out the work.

That led to the harbour being closed for three hours – bringing all harbour traffic (ferries, warships, trains) to a halt and causing jams city-wide… which prevented a good few well-wishers reaching Round Tower to see the tanker’s final entry.

But there was still a sizeable group gathered at the top of the historic fortification, cameras and smartphones at the ready and the RFA’s standard tied firmly to the railings, to see tugs usher the 43-year-old vessel safely in on a blustery winter’s day.

Among them Cdre Duncan Lamb, head of the RFA. “This is a significant period in the history of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary – and perhaps a moment to reflect as we reach the end of the Rover class. But it’s also an opportunity to look to the future at the Tide-class ships.”

Right now, the first of those – Tidespring – is on a 16,000-mile odyssey from the shipbuilder in Korea, crossing the Pacific, passing through Panama then across the Atlantic to the UK for final fitting out.

The yard where the ship she replaces was built in 1972-73, Swan Hunter on the Tyne, now designs vessels rather than build them – highlighting the very different world the tanker ends her active life in.

Just weeks after entering service in March 1974, she was thrust into evacuation duties with the Fleet off Cyprus. She did the same off Liberia in 1986 and delivered vital medical support to the remote island of Tristan da Cunha in 2007, when 271 islanders were struck down by a virus.

More typically, however, as a tanker she’s sustained operations by RN warships, topping up their tanks more than 8,250 times, most recently frigate HMS Portland off Sierra Leone.

After a formal ‘end of service’ ceremony in Portsmouth – the equivalent in the RFA to decommissioning in the Royal Navy – Gold Rover will be readied for dispo