RFA Tarbatness




Reproduced with permission of the MOD


RFA Tarbatness at Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
on 19 December 1977 ©  Kingsley Barr


Subsequent name:               USNS Spica  

Official Number:                    334594                                                                

Class:                                 NESS CLASS Stores Support Ship

Pennant No:                        A345 – T-AFS 9

Signal Letters:                     NMJG (1981)

Laid down:                           15 April 1966
Builder:                                Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd., Wallsend
Launched:                            28 February 1967
Into Service:                         10 August 1967
Out of service:                      1 April 1980 – laid up at Gibraltar
Fate:                                    Sunk as a target


Items of historic interest involving this ship: –


Background Data: The requirements for this Class,derived from an extensive feasibility study, placed in 1963, and undertaken in connection with the stowage, handling and issue of stores at sea, led to an order for 3 ships being placed in December the following year. They were MOD (Navy) designed to meet specific requirements and they were replacements for the War-built FORT CLASS. They were perhaps the most successful Class of RFA’s ever built and served as floating supermarkets. One was stored as an Air Stores Support Ship carrying some 10,000 items of naval and victual ling stores but with over 80,000 items of aircraft and naval stores to meet the requirements of aircraft carriers and their escorts. The other two carried varying quantities of up to 40,000 different items of general naval stores including stocks of clothing, mess gear and medical supplies, together with dry and refrigerated food which enabled the Fleet to remain at sea for considerable periods. They also carried up to 350 tons of potable water. With the demise of the British aircraft carriers, which this Class was designed to support, their need decreased and ultimately all three were sold to the United States Military Sealift Command. The major change made then was the addition of a hangar complex on all three vessels. When built, the Class cost approx £10½m


7 December 1964 ordered

28 February 1967 the Birmingham Daily Post reported –


28 2 67 Brum Daily Post Tarbatnes


28 February 1967 launched by Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd, Wallsend as Yard Nr: 2018 named TARBATNESS. Her launch had been delayed for 24 hours by high winds. She was originally to have been built by Barclay Curle on the Clyde, but that Yard had obtained a Czech order for a bulk carrier at the same time, so she ended up being built at the same Yard as her sisters. Named after a headland on the NE coast of Scotland which separates the Cromarty and Dornoch Firths.

11 May 1967 Mr J Edge RFA appointed as Chief Engineer Officer

19 June 1967 Captain E D J Evans RFA appointed as Master

10 August 1967 completed at a cost of £3.75m

9 October 1967 the Western Evening Herald reported this day on the ships arrival at Devonport – her first major port of call

1 November 1967 at Plymouth

January 1968 together with 13 other RFA’s supported the Royal Navy peace keeping force which was deployed off Aden when independence was granted

30 January 1968 her Ship’s Badge was officially presented to her

15 July 1968 at Singapore

21 August 1968 with RFA FORT ROSALIE (1) joined in Exercise “Winged Foot” together with RFA’s OLNA (3) and REGENT and with RN and RAN ships off Penang

28 August 1968 Mr R W Cann RFA appointed as Chief Engineer Officer

19 May 1969 RAS’ed with HMAS’s SYDNEY and VAMPIRE in the vicinity of Pulau Aur

18 June 1969 visits RAF Gan, Indian Ocean

16 January 1970 at Fremantle, Western Australia


Tarbatness Cat


5 February 1970 at Singapore

Between 18 February 1970 and 23 February 1970 at Bangkok visited together with HMS’s FEARLESS, ANDROMEDA and WHITBY and involved carrying a Naval Sales Mobile Exhibition


HMS Fearless L10


14 April 1970 to 15 April 1970 on station in the Indian Ocean for recovery of Apollo 13 at it’s alternative splash down point 120 miles off Mauritius with ships of the Royal Navy together with RFA’s TIDEFLOW and ENNERDALE (2)

8 June 1970 at Singapore

27 July 1970 at Hong Kong

27 August 1970 1st Radio Officer Richard John Wiggins discharged dead. He is buried in Hong Kong Cemetery, Hong Kong. He is buried in grave S17B.11841



Courtesy and © of The War Graves Photographic Project


13 October 1970 at Mombasa

3 February 1971 at Singapore

5 August 1971 at Singapore

2 September 1971 the Coventry Evening Telegraph reported –


2 9 71 Cov Even Tele Tarbatness


8 September 1971 at Singapore

28 September 1971 berthed at Port Swettenham

1 October 1971 sailed Port Swettenham to Sydney, NSW, Australia

6 November 1971 during two hour visit to Pitcairn Island,  Pacific brought islander Robert Young to supervise the erection of a new Government Hostel

31 December 1971 at Plymouth

1 January 1972 at Plymouth

1 June 1972 towed RFA DEWDALE (2) to Durban after the latter had suffered a crankshaft seizure

2 August 1972 at the River Tyne

23 August 1972 at the River Tyne

12 September 1972 at Plymouth

23 October 1972 visited Jamestown, St Helena

28 February 1973 at Malta

12 March 1973 Wessex HAS1 Helicopter No: XS884 suffered a loss of power on approach to land on RFA TARBATNESS’ flight deck – landed safely

16 March 1973 at Portsmouth Dockyard

13 July 1973 at Portsmouth Dockyard

3 June 1974 in the Coral Sea off Eastern Australia exercising with RN and RAN units including HMAS SUPPLY (formerly RFA TIDE AUSTRAL)

29 August 1974 arrived at Cape Town, South Africa with HMS FIFE and various other RN ships together with RFA’s TIDESPRING (1) and TIDEREACH for exercises with the South African Navy

9 July 1976 at Portsmouth

4 August 1976 at Portsmouth

22 July 1975 along with RFA’s GOLD ROVER and TIDESPRING (1) sailed U.K. as part of Task Group 317.3 led by the guided missile destroyer HMS GLAMORGAN

21 August 1975 at sea at 12°42’N 49°28′ E Signalman Donald James Trollope discharged dead – natural causes

2 October 1976 at Portsmouth

20 March 1977 at San Juan, Pureto Rico

May 1977 exchanged her UK crew for a Maltese crew

7 May 1977 at Portsmouth

22 August 1977 at Portsmouth

5 September 1977 along with RFA’s GREY ROVER, REGENT and TIDEPOOL sailed Portsmouth as part of Task Group 317.6 led by the helicopter cruiser HMS TIGER

1 December 1977 and 2 December 1977 engaged in Exercise Compass 77 with HMAS’s STALWART, SUPPLY and USNS NAVASOTA. At the end of the exercise the ship together with HMAS’s VAMPIRE, PERTH, STUART, SWAN, SUPPLY, HMS’s RHYL, ZULU and MOHAWK sailed on passage to Western Australia

4 December 1977 HMS TIGER, RFA’s TIDEPOOL and REGENT joining the Task Group

6 December 1977 together with HMS RHYL and RFA TIDEPOOL detached from the Task Group to sail to Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

19 December 1977 berthed at Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

1978 plans were announced for her conversion into an amphibious assault ship, but the plans were subsequently cancelled on cost grounds

3 March 1978 berthed with RFA’s REGENT, GREY ROVER and TIDEPOOL at Singapore with HMS TIGER and various other RN units

3 May 1978 berthed at Portsmouth

18 July 1978 at Portland

1 August 1978 berthed at Portsmouth

18 October 1978 the Reading Evening Post newspaper reported …


18 10 78 Reading Evening Post Tarbatness


24 November 1978 along with RFA’s ORANGELEAF (2), TIDEREACH and RELIANT(2) featured on postage stamps issued by Tristan da Cunha

January 1979 undertook her final deployment – a supply run to Diego Garcia and support to the Royal Yacht and Escorts during H.M. Queen’s Arab States Tour

2 February 1979 RASed with RFA BLUE ROVER

4 March 1979 RASed with RFA BLUE ROVER

30 March 1979 along with HMS LONDON and RFA’s BACCHUS (3), SIR LANCELOT and OLNA (3) she assisted in the closure of the Naval Base at Malta

9 April 1979 arrived Rosyth to commence a destore which would mark the end of her role as a Stores Support Ship

1979 considered for conversion to a LPA (Landing Platform Auxiliary) – this conversion would have consisted of the building of a amphibious control centre, conversion of the hold space into accommodation for a full commando group including their weaponsand vehicles together with the construction of a hanger for 3 Gazelle helicopters. The plan was cancelled and …..

1 April 1980 laid up at Gibraltar

2 July 1981 at Gibraltar

15 July 1981 at River Tyne

23 September 1981 after a refit on the Tyne, she sailed on her delivery run to the USA

30 September 1981 acquired on Time Charter by the United States Military Sealift Command

1 November 1981 renamed USNS Spica

1 March 1982 purchased along with RFA LYNESS for $37m by the USMSC. Re-entered service after modifications which included the installation of a hanger complex to enable her to operate 2 x Ch-46 helicopters


1 January 1987 in a floating dry dock (AFDM-5) at the US Naval Station Subic Bay, Luzon, Philippines

Spica 1 Jan 1987

6 May 1987 alongside at Sydney, NSW, Australia during the Royal Australian Navy’s 75th Anniversary celebrations

Spica 23 APR 1989

USNS Spica on 23 April 1989

4 March 1997 Chief Engineer Officer Michael Dennehy appointed

21 April 1999 Captain Max Black appointed

2000 was the recipient of the U.S. Seventh Fleet’s prestigious 2000 Logistics Excellence Award which recognised the premier logistics ship operating in the Seventh Fleet’s area of responsibility

August 2000 was alongside X-Ray Wharf at Guam

17 March 2001 RASed USS Harry S Truman (CV.75)

24 February 2002 VERTREP with USS John F Kennedy (CV67)

USNS Spica 24 Feb 2002

27 March 2002 RASed USS John C Stennis (CVN 74) in the Arabian Sea

18 December 2002 RASed USS Harry S Truman (CV.75)

17 January 2003 RASed USS Harry S Truman (CV.75)

15 February 2003 berthed at Augusta

18 February 2003 berthed at Augusta

21 February 2003 berthed at Augusta

3 March 2003 berthed at Augusta

7 March 2003 berthed at Augusta

26 March 2003 berthed at Augusta

7 April 2003 a SA30 helicopter deployed from the ship crashed during a vertical RAS with USS Harry S Truman (CVN75) in the eastern Mediterranean. Two crew members were rescued

12 April 2003 berthed at Augusta

15 April 2003 berthed at Augusta

16 June 2003 berthed at Augusta

17 June 2003 berthed at Gibraltar

1 July 2003 berthed at Norfolk

3 October 2003 berthed at Augusta

16 November 2003 berthed at Grand Harbour, Malta

31 October 2003 berthed at Augusta

24 November 2003 berthed at Augusta

26 November 2003 berthed at Gibraltar

17 March 2005 involved in a collision with USS Monterey (CG61) while conducting an underway RAS in the Persian Gulf. No casualties or injuries


USS Monterey (CG61)

5 May 2005 deployed with the Kearsarge Expeditionary Strike Group and while conducting Maritime Security Operations in the Persian Gulf – RASed with USSAshland (LSD-48) and USS Ponce (LPD-15)

14 May 2005 undertook VERTREP with USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70)

19 September 2005 underway in the Elizabeth River at Norfolk, VA

27 December 2005 berthed at Rota

19 January 2006 RASed with USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71)

18 February 2006 involved with other US, French and Italian ships to search for 10 missing US naval crew members from two US military helicopters which had crashed into the sea in the Gulf of Aden

14 February 2007 completed her last “blue water” turnover in the Red Sea with her sister USNS SATURN (ex RFA STROMNESS) and due to decommission in  fiscal year 2008

31 May 2007 inbound in the Elizabeth River at Norfolk, VA

24 January 2008 decommissioned, towed from Norfolk and laid up

26 January 2008 deactivated, stricken from the USMSC rolls and  was turned over to the Navy Inactive Ships Program and  was laid up at their Maintenance Facility at Philadelphia.

6 May 2009 expended as a target for US Naval Fleet Exercises off the U.S. East Coat



Was one of the 11 storeships employed in the Mozchan on Beira Patrol duties



Ships of the same name

Tarbat Ness. A repair ship of 8,580 tons, 424.5 x 57 feet, laid down by the West Coast Shipbuilding Company of Vancouver, she was cancelled on the 18 August 1945.  Completed in January 1947 as SS Lautoka.