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Sailing under a different flag – former Royal Navy vessels serving with other navies

With the recent sale of HMS Ocean to Brazil, Save The Royal Navy took the  opportunity to examine the considerable number of RN and RFA vessels that have been sold on for further service with foreign navies and are still operational today.


Upholder class submarines

It is still a source of controversy and regret today but in the early 1990s it was decided to decommission the RN’s 4 conventional Upholder class submarines after just a few years service, as part of the Cold War “peace dividend”. After spending time in storage they were eventually sold to Canada but suffered a tortuous and difficult return to service, not helped by a fatal fire on board HMCS Chicoutimi during her delivery voyage in 2004. It took until February 2015 for the RCN to declare their submarine fleet was operational but the Upholders are now proving to be excellent boats and are deployed globally. HMS Upholder was re-named Chicoutimi and after lengthy repairs commissioned in September 2015. HMS Unseen became HMCS Victoria, HMS Ursula became HMCS Corner Brook and Unicorn became HMCS Windsor.


Ex-HMS Unseen, HMCS Victoria serves in the Pacific fleet. (Photo: Canadian Navy)

Type 23 Frigates

The sale of 3 modern Type 23 frigates was announced in the 2003 and was a precursor to many more cuts to the fleet in the 21st Century. Seen in a wider context, the sacrifice of these ships was partly to help fund the war in Iraq and in part the Treasury’s required ‘pound of flesh’ in return for the eventual order for the QE class aircraft carriers. The ships were converted for Chilean service in Portsmouth between 2006-08. HMS Norfolk recommissioned in 2006 as Almirante Cochrane. HMS Grafton recommissioned as the Almirante Lynch in March 2007 and HMS Malborough recommissioned as the Almirante Condell in May 2008. Lockheed Martin Canada has recently been contracted to replace the combat management system with their CMS 330. According to an unconfirmed Janes report in October 2017, Chile is interested in buying additional second-hand Type 23 frigates after the MoD suggested: “up to five ships may become available for sale”. (It seems likely this plan will be abandoned in the MDP 2018 review currently underway).


Apart from the darker paint scheme, these frigates have had little modification since their RN service. This is ex-HMS Norfolk, Almirante Cochrane seen in the Pacific in 2016. (Photo: US Navy)


Type 22 Batch 1 Frigates

The 4 batch 1 Type 22 Frigates were sold to Brazil between 1995-97. Ex-HMS Broadsword became Greenhalgh, ex-HMS Battleaxe became Rademaker – both continue to serve today. Ex-HMS Brilliant became Dodsworth but was scrapped in 2012 and ex-HMS Brazen became Bosísio but was sunk as target in 2017.


Ex-HMS Battleaxe, Greenhalgh seen alongside HMS Dauntless in Key West, Florida in 2012 (Photo: US Navy).


Type 22 Batch II Frigates

The decommissioning of the 6 very young batch II Type 22s between 1999 -2001 was mired in controversy as the MoD failed to raise much from their sale, HMS Boxer & Brave were sunk as targets, HMS Beaver scrapped and the others sold at knock-down prices amidst a corruption scandal.

Commissioned into the Romanian navy in September 2004, ex-HMS Coventry, ROS Regele Ferdinand was stripped of her Sea Wolf and Exocet and for such a large vessel carries very light armament. Together with her sister, ex-HMS London, ROS Regina Maria, they are frequent participants in NATO Black Sea exercises. (Photo: NATO Marcom)



Sold to Chile in 2003, Ex-HMS Sheffield, Almirante Williams has been significantly modified with Sea Wolf replaced by 2 x 16-cell Israeli Barak VLS, 1 Oto Melara 76mm gun and 8 Harpoon AShM. (Photo: US Navy)


Type 21 Frigates

All 6 surviving Type 21 frigates were sold to Pakistan between 1993-94. Always seen as somewhat under-armed in RN service, they were quickly modernised and upgraded with new weapons and sensors and reclassified by Pakistan as ‘destroyers’. Ex-HMS Amazon, PNS Babur and ex-HMS Alacrity, PNS Badr have now been decommissioned but the remaining 4 ships are still operational.

Ex-HMS Avenger, PNS Tippu Sultan. Note the Chinese made 6-cell LY-60N Hunting Eagle SAM replacing the Exocet launchers below the bridge (Photo: US Navy).


Still fine looking ships, Ex-HMS Active now PNS-Shahjahan. Note the Phalanx CIWS that replaced the obsolete Sea Cat SAM on the hangar roof and the Harpoon AShM launchers instead of the Hunting Eagle fitted to the Tippu Sultan. (Photo US Navy)


Patrol ships

HMS Dumbarton Castle and HMS Leeds Castle were sold to the Bangladesh Navy in April 2010. These ships were upgraded between 2011-14 and given a new sensor fit, 4 Chinese-made C704 anti-ship missiles and an Ak-176 76.2 mm gun. They are now rated as ‘corvettes’.


Ex-HMS Dumbarton Castle, BNS Bijoy and Ex-HMS Leeds Castle, BNS Dhaleshwari take part in a fire-fighting exercise in the Bay of Bengal, December 2017. (Bangladeshi Navy photo)


Five of the six Island Class OPVs were delivered to the Bangladeshi navy between 2002-04. Ex-HMS Lindisfarne became BNS Turag, ex-HMS Shetland became BNS Kapatakhaya, ex-HMS Alderney became BNS Karatoa, ex-HMS Anglesey became BNS Gomati. ex-HMS Orkney was sold to the Trinidad and Tobago Coastguard in 2001 and served as TTS Nelson until she was decommissioned in 2015.

Ex-HMS Guernsey became BNS Sangu, seen here in 2012. (Photo: US Navy)


The 5 RN Peacock class vessels were built to patrol the waters of Hong Kong. When Hong  Kong was handed back to China in 1999, 3 of the ships were sold to the Philipines in August 1999 for a bargain $20M. HMS Peacock became BRP Emilio Jacinto, HMS Plover became BRP Apolinario Mabini and HMS Starling became BRP Artemio Ricarte. The Philipines is very happy with the vessels which continue in service with upgrades planned. There were calls for them to be retained for patrolling UK waters but after a period laid up, the remaining two vessels were eventually sold to Ireland in 1989, where they continue to serve. HMS Swallow became LÉ Ciara and HMS Swift became LÉ Orla.

Ex-HMS Plover, BRP Apolinario Mabini, of the Philippine Navy.


Ex-HMS Swallow, LÉ Ciara seen alongside at the Irish Navy’s base at Haulbowline, Cork.


The 12 River class vessels built in the early 1980s were originally designed as minesweepers but were quickly converted to patrol duties and mostly manned by Royal Navy Reservists. In was decided in 1993 that all would be decommissioned and sold off. 4 were sold to Bangladesh, 7 to Brazil and 1 to Guyana. The entire class remain operational with their new owners.

Ex-HMS Humber now named NPa Amorim Do Valle and serving in the Brazilian Navy as an inshore hydrographic survey and buoy tender vessel. (Photo: Diario Portuario via Flickr)


Ex-HMS Blackwater, now called NPa Benevente and classified as a “Small Patrol Corvette” by the Brazilian Navy. (Photo: Santos Shiplovers)


Ex-HMS Helford renamed BNS Shaibal and serving as a hydrographic vessel in the Bangladeshi navy. (Photo: Bangladesh Navy)



In the last decade, the RN has been slowly reducing its fleet of modern plastic-hulled minehunters. These vessels are an attractive proposition for foreign navies and the 3 Sandown class SRMH and 4 Hunt class MCMVs are frequently seen serving in NATO Mine Countermeasures Groups.


HMS Sandown, Inverness and Bridport were sold to Estonia between 2007-09. This is ex-HMS Sandown, EML Admiral-Cowan-Estonia. (Photo: Estonian Navy)



HMS Biscester and Berkeley were sold to Greece in 2011. This is ex-HMS Berkeley, Kallisto. (photo: Hellenic Navy)


After serving as a fisheries Protection vessels in their later years in the RN, HMS Dulverton and Cottesmore were sold to Lithuania in 2011. These ships were returned to their minehunting role, upgraded with Thales Type 2193 sonar and given a 40mm Bofors gun. This is ex-HMS Dulverton, now named Kursis.


Survey vessels

Just one of the Herald Class hydrographic survey vessels built for the RN in the 1960s survives in Indonesian service. 2 of the 5 Bulldog class survey vessels survive but are unrecognisable. Ex-HMS Beagle was completely rebuilt as a motor yacht Titan and ex-HMS Fox has been rebuilt as motor yacht Toy Heaven.


Ex-HMS Hydra, sold to the Indonesian Navy in 1986 now named KRI Dewa Kembar and still listed as active.


Ex-HMS Roebuck was sold to Bangladesh in 2010 and is now called BNS Anushandhan, seen here arriving in Chittagong. To starboard, note the ancient former RN Type 41 frigates which were transferred in 1978 but have now been scrapped. (Photo: Bangladesh Navy)


Auxiliary ships

One of the much-regretted decisions of the 2010 defence review was the sale of RFA Largs Bay to Australia for £65 Million. Costing a very modest £25M per year to run, the 3 remaining ships have proved versatile and able to perform all kinds of tasks beyond their primary amphibious role.

Ex-RFA Largs Bay seen docked down during amphibious exercise Talisman Sabre in 2015, now in service with the Australian Navy and renamed HMAS Choules. (Photo: Royal Australian Navy)



Ex-RFA Sir Bedivere, now renamed NDCC Almirante Saboia. (Note ex-HMS Broadsword, Greenhalgh and British-designed Niterói-class Independência in the background of this image.) Sir Bedivere was built in 1967 but rebuilt and a hull extension inserted during a major Life Extension refit in 1994. She was converted for Brazilian service in Falmouth during 2009.


Ex-RFA Sir Galahad, now called Garcia D’Avila conducting a direct beach landing, something rarely practised by the LSLs when in UK service. Sir Galahad was completed in 1987 as a replacement for her namesake destroyed during the Falklands war. She was sold to Brazil in 2007.


Ex-RFA Blue Rover was sold to the Portuguese Navy in 1993 and renamed NRP Berrio. The Portuguese Navy is currently examining possible replacements for this ship that they only originally planned to keep in service until 2005.


Ex-RFA Green Rover was sold to Indonesia in 1992 and re-named KRI Arun. In March 2018, failure of ballast pumps during a replenishment at sea with hospital ship KRI Dr Soeharso caused a severe list to starboard. Arun was towed to Surabaya and it is expected the ship will be returned to service. (Photo: Indonesian Navy)


HMS Challenger

After a botched and over-budget construction on the Clyde, HMS Challenger was commissioned into the RN as specialist diving and seabed operations vessel in 1983. She was considered an unaffordable ‘luxury’ by short-sighted ministers and was paid off in 1990, having barely shown her potential. She was sold in 1993 and eventually converted to a mining vessel used to extract diamonds from the seabed, being renamed MV Ya Toivo.

Now owned by the De Beers mining Group, the MV Ya Toivo has been significantly re-built including crudely increasing her beam. Only the bridge is vaguely recognisable from her days as HMS Challenger. Ya Toivo features regularly on


Around the world, the “ex-Royal Navy flotilla” consists of something like, an assault ship, 4 submarines, 12 frigates, 24 patrol vessels, 7 mine warfare vessels, 2 survey vessels and 5 auxiliaries. Sales of surplus vessels can generate useful income for the MoD and strengthen defence relationships but some vessels were valuable assets that were disposed of in haste. In the long run, the National Shipbuilding Strategy suggests that the RN offers its warships for sale to overseas buyers at a younger age and replace them with new vessels, providing regular work for UK shipbuilders.


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Comments on Ex-Royal Navy vessels serving with other navies

There are 3 comments on Ex-Royal Navy vessels serving with other navies

  1. Comment by Geoff Godsell

    Geoff Godsell

    Not forgetting ex HMS Ocean now with Brazil

    1. Comment by Murray Hammick

      Murray Hammick

      You are quite right, Geoff, and in fact you have anticipated an article due to be published later today which refers to the useful role the Ocean might have played in the current Straits of Hormuz crisis if we had not sold her for a song.

  2. Comment by Michael Fisher

    Michael Fisher

    Thank you, Just this evening I viewed a photograph of a Romanian Frigate docking at Alexandria Eygpt. I thought I knew a little history of Britain selling or giving Frigates to Rumania and consequently found your site while searching for info.
    I have to say I am shocked; I wish this information could be made mainstream for everybody to understand what goes on…

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