Patrol craft up to 19 months late

Warranty negotiations over Canterbury add to delays

Last updated 22:44 18/09/2008

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Delivery of new patrol craft for the navy is running up to 19 months behind schedule and is subject to further delay while Defence Ministry officials try to sort out contract and warranty problems with the shipbuilder.

According to the delivery schedule agreed when the $500 million Project Protector contract was signed in 2004, the whole fleet should have been commissioned by January this year.

The four 55-metre inshore patrol craft should have been delivered between February 2007 and January this year and the two 85-metre offshore patrol craft should have been completed by May and October last year.

But they are tied up in Melbourne and Whangarei and contractor BAE Systems Australia - formerly Tenix - has not yet offered to hand any of them over.

There have been holdups getting certification for the ships and their rigid-hulled inflatable boats. These have been compounded by long warranty negotiations to fix problems on the 9000-tonne multi-role ship HMNZS Canterbury.

Further talks are scheduled in Melbourne next week. Neither the Defence Ministry nor BAE will discuss details or say when the patrol craft will be available.

BAE spokesman Jim Parkes expected they would be delivered by late this year. Delivering an outstanding product sometimes meant production holdups, he said.

Ministry spokesman Commander Shaun Fogarty said negotiations were commercially sensitive and confidential.

A major issue is the suitability of the inflatable boats. Though they were fitted and certified for use on the Canterbury they have not been certified for use on the patrol craft.

Navy deputy chief Commodore Bruce Pepperell said that sounded alarm bells.

"We've got an obligation to make sure we provide our people with gear that is safe and fit for purpose."

Problems with the boat design and launching mechanisms were identified in an inquiry into the death of seaman Byron Solomon, who drowned after the boat he was on capsized as it was launched from the Canterbury last year.

Commodore Pepperell said safer boats had been ordered and would be installed on the Canterbury before it went to sea in November.

The Canterbury has been tied up in Auckland for months because of concerns about its ability to operate in rough seas. It will initially be available only for limited coastal operations and Commodore Pepperell did not expect it to be available for unrestricted operations till March or April.

But that depended on the talks with BAE. As well as new boats, modifications are needed to stop waves crashing into the alcoves where the boats are stored. Extra ballasting is needed to slow the ship's motion in rough seas.

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- The Dominion Post

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