Aus patrol boats gifted to Pacific island nations found defective

by IANS |

Canberra, July 1 (IANS) A fleet of patrol boats that Australia gifted to its Pacific island neighbours were found to have major design flaws which must be urgently fixed, local media reports said on Friday.

According to the reports, Australia has delivered 15 Guardian-class patrol vessels to the Pacific island countries including Papua New Guinea (PNG), Tuvalu, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Palau, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands since 2018, as part of a A$2.1 billion ($1.45 billion) Pacific Maritime Security Program to give 22 vessels to these countries for a range of purposes like preventing illegal fishing, and search and rescue operations.

The Australian Financial Review (AFR) said that not all the boats had been affected, but engineering advice was that the faults could ultimately afflict the entire fleet, reports Xinhua news agency.

In a statement issued on Friday, the Defence Ministry said it has advised the government of an issue involving a potential fault in the exhaust system.

Other issues including cracking in the coupling between the engine and the gearbox, and ventilation in the sick bays have emerged over the past 16 months and have remediation plans in place.

Though the problems have emerged since last year, the new Australian government only found out about the problems in the past two weeks, and took aim at the previous administration.

Pat Conroy, Minister for Defence Industry, said that "this is the latest example of (how) the previous Liberal government was all announcement and no follow-through when it came to defence projects".

"Former Defence Minister Peter Dutton talked a big game on national security but has left yet another mess in defense capability for the new government to clean up."

As it is reported that Pacific island countries may halt the use of the patrol boats after the serious defects were discovered, and delivery of future vessels will be affected by the faults, the Australian government is trying to fix the problems and seek a solution with the regional neighbours.

The Defence Ministry said the shipbuilder Austal and Defence representatives soon will travel to Pacific Island nations to assess all vessels and work with Pacific island countries on temporary rectification measures ahead of a longer-term solution.

Conroy said his department was working closely with regional neighbours on how to deal with the problems.

An Austal spokesperson said it was working with the Defence Ministry to develop both temporary measures to fix the boats and long-term solutions for the issues with the exhaust systems.

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