Why didn’t some­one walk the plank?

Auckland City Harbour News - - News -

Memo to the new gov­ern­ment: Watch out if any­one sug­gests splash­ing out on the odd new ship for our navy. Odd in­deed.

For very good rea­son. Ac­tu­ally for 20 mil­lion good rea­sons – and each one a dol­lar we could well do with to help bal­anc­ing those books and treat­ing the rash of red on ev­ery page.

Th­ese days of bil­lions and tril­lions, $20 mil­lion sounds like a drop in a rather leaky bucket. And wast­ing that sort of money not once but twice could seem just bad luck rather than in­com­pe­tence.

That’s if any­one re­ally got around to think­ing about it.

Both ma­jor par­ties would much pre­fer not to be re­minded – and for good rea­son.

It be­gan with flag-wav­ing and massed blow­ing of bo­sun’s whis­tles back in 1994 when the Na­tional gov­ern­ment of the day was lightly tapped on the shoul­der and told: “Boy, have I got a good deal for you.”

The Bee­hive ad­mi­rals of those days bought a Scan­di­na­vian roll-on, roll-off ferry for $14m, spent $7m more hav­ing it mod­i­fied into a mil­i­tary sealift trans­port, and gave it the grand ti­tle of HMNZS Charles Upham, in hon­our of our dou­ble VC hero. So far, so good.

Un­til, that is, the good ship ac­tu­ally put to sea. If a ship can go pear-shaped, then this one cer­tainly did.

It broke down on its sea tri­als and even at its best rolled so badly that vet­eran crew were sick be­yond re­lief.

Leg­end has it they called it the Charles Chuckam.

Fac­ing be­ing wharf-bound ap­par­ently per­ma­nently and need­ing just the odd $35m more to guar­an­tee plain sail­ing, the Chuckam was in­stead char­tered to a Span­ish ship­ping com­pany lug­ging or­anges – or should it have been lemons? – around the Mediter­ranean.

Mean­while, var­i­ous ac­tual or would-be ad­mi­rals, pub­lic ser­vants and politi­cians caught their breath and pre­sum­ably drafted their “it wasn’t me” memos.

That process ended with a sailor’s farewell for the Chuckam – sold to the char­ter­ers for ei­ther $8.6m or $6.8m, de­pend­ing on which gov­ern­ment hand­out you study.

Plus, pre­sum­ably, a warn­ing on its bridge: “Don’t ever take it into the At­lantic.”

And our navy turned char­ter­ers them­selves, hir­ing a Dutch cargo ship to take troops and ve­hi­cles to East Ti­mor in just the sort of role the other roller had been bought for but never got around to.

You’d have thought that this mod­ern equiv­a­lent of the fate of the Ar­mada would have sent the Bee­hive ship-buy­ing ex­perts a clear sig­nal.

But it didn’t. They tried again.

The same process: A $250m “multi-role ves­sel”, to trans­port our army’s ar­mour and troops to far shores “without need­ing a port ... built by Aussie ex­perts”, etc, etc, was the prom­ise.

Un­til they ac­tu­ally got it in the wa­ter, that is.

By now, Phil Goff, then De­fence Min­is­ter, was get­ting the bad news. On its maiden trip around its home coast, the 8800 ton­ner, HMNZS Can­ter­bury, hit trou­ble in a storm off Bay of Plenty, lost one of its $200,000 in­flat­a­bles over­board and then a crew­man later drowned when an infl de­tached from the ship and cap­sized.

Dis­tress sig­nals ran up the of­fi­cial masts.

De­sign, safety and equip­ment prob­lems kept the navy’s new­est but far from finest tied up for 65 of the first 160 days it was sup­posed to be at sea, ac­cord­ing to a release in Au­gust. Not a good look. Even worse in Septem­ber when a fan­ci­fully-named $20m “get well pro­gramme” for the ship was an­nounced.

More safety con­cerns too – just 15 wor­ry­ing months af­ter the won­der ves­sel was com­mis­sioned to carry out its much-vaunted multi roles.

The naval bat­tle isn’t over yet.

This re­fit had bet­ter work. We can’t de­pend on any more oblig­ing Span­ish cit­rus fruit ship­pers to take this po­ten­tial lemon off our hands too!

Mean­while, the agony of Mu­gabe’s Zim­babwe goes on – and deepens.

This let­ter is from a mis­sion­ary staff mem­ber at Karanda Hospi­tal.

In sim­ple and heart-rend­ing lan­guage it says: “Pray for us – and those who de­pend on us.”

“Many of you know the seem­ingly end­less list of is­sues and needs fac­ing the coun­try of Zim­babwe right now.

“Sadly, to this point, things are not a whole lot bet­ter, and we are now reach­ing a crit­i­cal stage.

“To­day is the last day we will have any food to give our pa­tients and the nurs­ing stu­dents.

“We have a lit­tle bit of rice for the pa­tients – enough to last to­day – and one small bar­rel of corn for the stu­dents left.

“Af­ter that, if we’ve not been able to find corn, each of us mis­sion­ar­ies is go­ing to have to start us­ing our own food sup­plies.

“Though we of­ten do that on a small scale – when we see a per­son in par­tic­u­lar need, when there’s a pa­tient who needs cer­tain food that the hospi­tal can’t pro­vide, or when we have the stu­dents in our homes – to do it to have to feed ev­ery pa­tient and stu­dent at Karanda will ex­haust ev­ery­thing we have in only a few days.

“As well, we just re­ceived word that ev­ery gov­ern­ment hospi­tal in Zim­babwe has now closed.

“This means we very likely will be get­ting dou­ble and triple – or more – of our nor­mal pa­tient load.

“Hu­manly speak­ing, we do not have the staffing nor the re­sources to sus­tain this.

“We al­ready are out of ARVs – the medicine used to treat AIDS – and many other med­i­ca­tions are ei­ther out of stock or are run­ning low.

“We don’t have any IV flu­ids left, and there­fore are tak­ing huge risks by per­form­ing surgery on pa­tients.

“There is a whole ship­ment of IV flu­ids that we’ve or­dered, but Zim is keep­ing it trapped at the bor­der for some rea­son.

“Yet again, we know that our God is com­pletely aware of our sit­u­a­tion and has the mat­ter wrapped in His per­fect, wise, sov­er­eign con­trol.

“Al­ready, we have seen him do mir­a­cles in re­cent days.

“The fact that no one has died dur­ing surgery without IV flu­ids is a mir­a­cle in it­self!

“We must now, by grace that can be sup­plied only by His Spirit, glo­rify Him by hav­ing faith that He will meet our ev­ery need.”

What won­der­ful faith. And what a ter­ri­ble prob­lem.

To con­tact Pat Booth email: off­pat@snl.co.nz. All replies are open for pub­li­ca­tion un­less marked oth­er­wise.

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