A family-run firm based in the North East has officially taken over the worldwide support of five Royal Navy River Class offshore patrol vessels.

The contract, worth £250m over the next eight years, will see UK Docks - headquartered in South Shields and operating dry docks on the Tees and the Tyne - provide in-service support to HMS Tamar, Spey, Medway, Trent and Forth.

Previously, UK Docks had operated its support in partnership with the navy but now takes over sole responsibility.

UK Docks already provides in–service support for Royal Navy boats and the navy’s ice patrol ship, HMS Protector, which has the demanding job of supporting the British Antarctic Survey, and which has been a frequent visitor to the Tees docks.

Now, with the River Class vessels deployed continually overseas, UK Docks must access the commercial ship repair market and liaise with regional partners and allies in the South Atlantic, North Atlantic, Mediterranean and Indo-Asia Pacific regions to ensure they can continually carry out important international duties.

The Northern Echo: From left, Commodore Paul Pitcher, UK Docks MD Jonathan Wilson, Graeme Little, deputy director

UK Docks managing director Jonathan Wilson, said: “This signing marks a big moment for our company.

“The contract was awarded last May by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in the wake of us successfully maintaining HMS Protector, along with HMS Enterprise and HMS Echo, which have now been decommissioned.

“The new contract needed us to work at a global level servicing the vessels in distant bases, so a transition period was included in which UK Docks needed to show it could carry out the work required across the world.

The Northern Echo: UK Docks managing director Jonathan WilsonUK Docks managing director Jonathan Wilson (Image: GSA MEDIA)

“The signing of this updated contract means we have shown the MoD we can match the highest standards required for what is an essential job of work - keeping these ships and their crews operating continually, no matter where in the world they are.”

Appropriately enough, the new signing was made in the Grand Cabin of Horatio Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory in Portsmouth, with Jonathan, his co-directors, Stephen Lee and brothers Gary and Chris and UK Docks founder, their father Harry Wilson, taking part.

“We take enormous pride in being a family firm,” said Jonathan, “and a big part of UK Docks’ success has been that we have that team spirit and close commitment across the entire company.”

The Northern Echo: HMS Medway, pictured here in Gibraltar, is one of the vessels supported by UK DocksHMS Medway, pictured here in Gibraltar, is one of the vessels supported by UK Docks (Image: GSA MEDIA)

Rear Admiral Steven McCarthy, DE&S Director Ships’ Operations, said: “The River Class offshore patrol vessels have a demanding operating cycle and are persistently forward deployed around the world.

“From protecting British interests in missions that range from counter-narcotics and maritime security operations to humanitarian aid and disaster relief, for small ships they make a huge impact.

“This contract makes the vessels available for use by the Royal Navy for 90 per cent of the year. It drives real value for money by accessing the commercial maritime ship repair market to deliver the maintenance the ships need to keep them seaworthy.

“I’m delighted that we’re continuing to work with UK Docks, securing jobs and supporting local supply chains and services in the North East and benefitting from their expertise in the commercial ship repair sector.”

The vital role these vessels carry out internationally was underlined earlier this month when HMS Trent was involved in a £17m cocaine interception involving two speedboats in the Caribbean.

HMS Trent has now seized drugs worth £307m since she began operating in those waters last year.

The Northern Echo: HMS Spey in SingaporeHMS Spey in Singapore (Image: GSA MEDIA)

The contract, which runs until 2031, will create or safeguard well over 100 jobs involved in delivering remote support, technical, logistical and design agent services and management. Work will also be provided for more than 250 companies in their supply chain.

It represents another major win for UK Docks, which, in 2018 won a £150m, 10-year contract with the navy to provide in-service support to HMS Protector, HMS Enterprise and HMS Echo.

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That original contract was a huge step forward for a company originally founded by Harry Wilson in a single boat repair yard in South Shields in 1992 and this new contract underpins the North-East company’s upward trajectory.

Jonathan Wilson added: “We see the awarding of this contract as a resounding vote of confidence in homegrown British industry, skills and capability and we look forward to putting those resources at the service of these five important vessels.”

The five River Class Offshore Patrol Vessels are designed to be deployed globally. The River Class offshore patrol vessels are 90 metres long and are equipped with a 30mm cannon and flight deck capable of accommodating a Merlin helicopter. They have a range of more than 5,500 nautical miles and a top speed of more than 20 knots.