The usual defence bungledom

Not a single navy ship seaworthy when needed to help cyclone victims

TWO of the navy's crucial support ships remain in dock and unavailable despite an outlay of more than $170 million of taxpayer funds and a ministerial bollocking.

The 28-year-old, 18,000 tonne replenishment ship HMAS Success and the 5800-tonne, 32-year-old amphibious vessel HMAS Tobruk, are both docked at Garden Island naval base in Sydney Harbour.

More than $106 million has been spent on the Success since January 2010, and it spent only 14 days at sea last year.

The Tobruk has absorbed $65 million since May 2009, but remains in dock with technical problems related to her age.

The Success was upgraded with a new double hull in Singapore last year, but a serious misalignment between her engines and propeller shaft, made worse by the extra weight of the new hull, had to be fixed. This involved shifting her 80-tonne engines by a fraction of a millimetre. Another $37 million is earmarked for a mid-life refit later this year.

Defence is examining options to buy a new replenishment ship and the official line is the $170 million spent on the old vessels was worthwhile.

Insiders say any more money should be directed to new vessels.

To make matters worse the navy's newest amphibious support ship, HMAS Choules, is undergoing routine maintenance although she is on 48-hours notice to move.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith slammed the navy last year when the entire amphibious fleet was unavailable for disaster relief support in the wake of Cyclone Yasi.

Opposition defence spokesman David Johnston said the Government must explain what value for money taxpayers had received from the outlays on the old support ships.


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