Four of the last five 770-ton River-class steel-hulled minesweepers remaining in British Royal Navy service were converted in 1994 for duties as patrol vessels in Northern Ireland waters. Portable sweep gear and winches were removed and replaced with davits to handle two rigid-inflatable inspection boats. The quartet—the Itchen, Blackwater, Arun, and Spey—now have been sold to Brazil, which has altered its original plan to use two as survey ships and two as buoy tenders and is instead commissioning them as seagoing patrol ships to replace the declining numbers in its Imperial Marinheiro class. The renamed Bracui (ex-Itchen), seen here en route to Brazil in May, retains the old 40-mm Mk 3 Bofors gun forward, distinguishing her from three other Rivers bought earlier by Brazil and now used for auxiliary duties. The other three destined for patrol service are being renamed Bocaina, Benevente, and Babitonga, names once borne by U.S. destroyer escorts transferred to Brazil during World War II.
Replacing the Rivers in Northern Ireland waters are 4 of the 13 Hunt-class 725-ton, glass-reinforced plastic-hulled mine countermeasures ships—again with mine countermeasures gear removed but with hydraulic cranes added to handle two inspection boats. Seen here with her pendant number painted out (standard practice for Northern Ireland patrol units) is the Dulverton; the Cottesmore, Brecon, and Middleton have been similarly altered. Ten of the Hunt class, once planned for a major modernization, are to receive only a "Hunt Minimum Update" after 2000, with a new wideband minehunting sonar and updates to the influence sweep arrays. With the commissioning of the Penzance on 14 May, six of the smaller Sandown class pure mine hunters also now have entered service.
The People's Liberation Army Navy multipurpose training ship Shichang, which visited Australia and New Zealand during May in company with the Luhu class destroyer Qingdao and the replenishment oiler Nancang, resembles a scaled-down version of the British Royal Navy's helicopter training ship Argus. Completed on 28 December 1996 at Qiuxin Shipyard, Shanghai, the 9,500-ton Shichang also has been officially described as a "national defense mobilization ship" and, in addition to her cadet navigational training duties, can act as a helicopter training ship, hospital ship, disaster relief ship, and container carrier, with space for 300 stacked 20-foot equivalent cargo containers on deck. Seen here with accommodations modules at the fore end of the two-spot helicopter deck, the 410-foot, unarmed Shichang, which has accommodations for 200 personnel, also has been sighted with modules stacked to form a helicopter hangar and flight control station.