Just not ship shape
PAUL Reeve is still spitting c hi p s a b o ut $ 3 2 mil l i o n worth of naval vessels sitting in a compound down in Fifth Avenue, doing anything but the job the taxpayer paid for them to do.
The businessman – a former marine engineer in the navy who became a mechanical maintenance supervisor for the six amphibious landing watercraft while working for Thales Australia – went public in July last year about waste of public money.
He’s still annoyed, particularly in the wake of the recent hullabaloo over the state of the navy’s ships and also because Townsville City Council was heavied for a $ 30 million contribution to the proposed ocean terminal – the approximate cost of the craft now rusting away.
Evidently the saga surrounding the craft amounts to a dummy spit in the corridors of Defence, where the naval chief and probably a few others are already ducking and weaving as the Defence Minister goes on a rampage over the appalling state of the ships the Australian p u b l i c , i n i t s n a i v e t y , thought were a real navy.
Incredibly, it took Cyclone Yasi to bring the matter to a head, and it’s probably taken the terrible situation with t h e Chr i s t c h u r c h e a r t h - quake to reveal a possible flaw in the backup plan.
As people in North Queensland know only too well, none of the navy’s heavy lift ships was available for the work desperately needed in the wake of the floods and cyclones that devastated so much of the state.
H M A S M a n o o r a w a s decommissioned early due to w e a r a n d t e a r . H M A S Kanimbla was undergoing 18 months of repairs.
HMAS Tobruk, which the minister had been told could be ready to be used in a brief time, turned out to be also out of action, but the public has been reassured that a q u i c k p a t c h j o b o n a seriously corroded bit of hull means it’s ready within 48 hours.
The fallback was use of the Kiwi navy’s amphibious lift ship, HMNZS Canterbury, if needed. But you’d think that o p t i o n might well have crumbled with the buildings destroyed in the quake. That s h i p mu s t s u r e l y h a v e priorities at home.
This newspaper reported last July how Mr Reeve was concerned that the landing craft, which were built for use on the Manoora and Kanimbla, had been sitting gathering dust ever since it was discovered that once loaded on to the ships, the craft were too wide for personnel to move safely past.
There were also issues in trying to move them with the ships’ cranes.
In February this year the government’s military purchasing agency, the Defence M a t e r i e l O r g a n i s a t i o n , finally came around to telling a senate’s estimates committee hearing what the people of Townsville already knew – that the project involving the 60-tonne craft had been scrapped because of o c c upat i o nal heal t h a nd safety concerns.
Yes, the department had provided Thales with the dimensions for the craft construction, but the Senate committee was also told that Thales had not built landing craft before.
The committee was also told it had not built anything using aluminium.
Now Mr Reeve is refusing to take any of this lying down.
‘‘ Those craft were built in Newcastle to specifications,’’ he said yesterday.
‘‘ They were trialled and accepted,’’ he said..
Someone then twigged the craft were too big for mounting on the ships.
Mr Reeve said the army wanted out, but Thales insisted the craft were built to dimensions supplied.
They said the military had signed off on the project, so some of the craft were taken