Canadian American Strategic Review



CF Projects

Orca Project


DND 101

Background  —  the Origins of the  Orca Class  Patrol Craft, Training

In November of  2004, Victoria Shipyards won  DND's  "YAG 300 (Training Vessel) Replace- ment" contest with  its design, the Orca class PCT. However, the Orca was not a completely original design. The basic hull originated  in Australia  where Tenix designed it to meet their Government's 1982  Pacific Patrol Boat project.

Tenix produced a range of patrol and search-and-rescue boats [1] most being based on their Pacific class hull. The Pacific class was designed to meet that Australian government  request for patrol boats suited  to the operational needs of neighbouring countries like the Cook Islands,  Fiji,  Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of  Micronesia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.  To satisfy this requirement, Tenix produced  twenty-two Pacific class boats – 31.5m vessels with durable welded steel hulls and welded aluminum superstructures,  powered by twin Caterpillar diesels.

Australia donated the 22 Pacific class patrol boats to her Pacific neighbours. To administer the construction and maintenance of  the boats, a Pacific Patrol Boat Systems Program Office was was set up within the Royal Australian Navy's procurement system (although RAN itself does not employ the type). The first of class  –  the PNG's HMPNGS Tarangau – is now 15 years old and the entire Pacific class are cycling through a life-extension program meant to keep them in service until 2027. The Pacific class boats are operated by self- defence or police forces depending on local arrangements. The common thread is sovereignty assertion and patrolling of  these twelve nations' 200 mile EEZs with an emphasis on protecting fisheries.

While the Pacific class boats gave good service to Australia's neighbours, the RAN had no need for such vessels ( it had more capable 41m Fremantle class patrol boats in service).[2]  However, the advantages of  the modestly-sized, user-friendly Pacific class boats were not lost on the RAN. After the 22 Pacific class for donation abroad were finished, a 23rd hull was constructed  for navigational training of  RAN officers. This boat  – MV Seahorse Mercator [3]  –  had a mission-specific superstructure set on a Pacific class hull. Victoria Shipyards was able to follow the same model for their Orca class boats. The Orca has a steel hull based on the patrol-proven Pacific class but with a modest hull stretch. As on the MV Seahorse Mercator, the superstructure is all new and designed specifically for CF training needs and trainee accomodations.

Orca Class PCT / Pacific Class  Patrol Boat  –  Specifications Comparison
  Dimensions:   33m/31.5m long  x  8.34m / 8.1m beam  x   2m/2.1m draught
  Displacement:   210 tonnes  ( full load )  /  210 tonnes  ( full load )
  Powerplant:   2 x Caterpillar 3516B diesels / 2 x Caterpillar 3516B diesels
  Max. Speed:   18 knots / 20+ knots (sustained speed for 31.5m HK boats)
  Armament:   Optional 12.7mm MG / 20mm cannon and/or machineguns

[1] The 24m patrol boat and  80m OPV are distinct designs.  Other Tenix patrol boats are based on the Pacific class hull, differing primarily in hull length and superstructure design. Four 31m patrol boats have been delivered to the Kuwait Coast Guard. In the 31.5m length, other than the 22 Pacific class and MV Seahorse Mercator, six Hong Kong Water Police fast patrol boats with a third waterjet-powering engine were built. Orca is the sole 33m hull. The Philippine Coast Guard received  four all-aluminum  35m  SAR versions with options on ten more.
[2] The Fremantles are now being replaced by 57m, aluminum Armidale class boats (based on Austal's Bay class customs vessel design).
[3] MV Seahorse Mercator is not a RAN vessel. It is privately owned and operated under contract to RAN by Defence Maritime Services. MV Seahorse Mercator is home-based in Sydney Harbour and  operates on officer nav training cruises from Port Stephens to Jervis Bay.