Why didn’t someone walk the plank?
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 balance those books and treat 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 over- board and then a crewman later drowned when an inflatable 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 fancifullynamed $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 heartrending 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: firstname.lastname@example.org. All replies are open for publication unless marked otherwise.