BIRKENHEAD shipyard Cammell Laird has begun a £47m refit of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary “pirate catcher” Fort Victoria.

The massive refit will be the biggest ever undertaken by the yard since it began its 25-year support contract to maintain nine of the 13 ships in the RFA flotilla in 2008.

Fort Victoria is one of the largest vessels operated by the Ministry of Defence.

She has just completed three years of active service where she has been Britain’s number one pirate catcher on operations off the coast of Somalia as well as supporting the Royal Navy in traditional roles.

Minister for defence equipment, support and technology Phillip Dunne said: “This £47m contract is a boost for Merseyside and I am delighted that this vital refit will provide ongoing work for 200 highly-skilled workers at the shipyard in Birkenhead.

“RFA Fort Victoria has been at the forefront of military operations for most of her life and this refit will reinvigorate her for future operations.”

Cammell Laird chief executive John Syvret said the company is “absolutely delighted” to welcome Fort Victoria to Merseyside.

He said: “This is a very big moment in the history of the cluster contract to begin a refit of this size, complexity and magnitude.

“The entire company is relishing the prospect of starting such an important contract. We will be deploying all the lessons we have learnt, and all the understanding we have developed of this vessel, over the last six years to ensure the refit delivers the best possible results for the RFA and MoD.”

Cammell Laird managing director Linton Roberts said the company has worked ‘enormously hard’ with the RFA since 2008 to develop a keen understanding of how best to work together in collaboration.

“The Cammell Laird team has come to know the RFA Fort Victoria extremely well over the years and at the end of 2012 we undertook a refit of the vessel ‘in theatre’ in Dubai, which followed the refit in 2009 at Cammell Laird.

“This background gives us extensive experience, expertise and knowledge of the vessel.”

Cammell Laird project director Spencer Atkinson, who will be leading the refit, said it would be one of the most detailed ever undertaken by the yard employing 200 skilled workers plus sub-contractors over nearly a year.