Minister for Defence – Team of experts to plan way forward on Amphibious Ships Fleet

The Government will appoint an independent team of experts to develop a plan to address problems in the repair and management of the amphibious and support ship fleet.

Mr Paul Rizzo, a Director of a number of major Australian corporations including the National Australia Bank and Malleson Stephen Jacques and the Independent Chair of the Defence Audit and Risk Committee, will lead the team.

He will be supported by Air Vice Marshal Neil Smith (rtd) and Rear Admiral Brian Adams (rtd) who have relevant experience in defence administration, engineering, maintenance, logistics, systems engineering, safety certification and the operation and support of amphibious ships.

The Terms of Reference for their work is released today and attached.

On 1 February, the Government announced that HMAS Manoora was to be decommissioned on the advice of the Chief of Navy.  The Manoora was placed on operational pause by the Chief of Navy after the Seaworthiness Board in September last year, and an examination of the 40 year old ship has revealed it requires remediation of significant hull corrosion and the replacement of both gear boxes.  As this work would cost over $20 million and take until April 2012 to complete, it is not considered value for money when Manoora was scheduled to be decommissioned at the end of next year.

On receiving that advice the Minister for Defence asked Defence for further advice outlining the reasons for the early decommissioning of HMAS Manoora and the extended unavailability of HMAS Kanimbla.

This advice, released today and attached, identifies systemic and cultural problems in the maintenance of the amphibious ship fleet.

Today we also outline ongoing maintenance activity with respect to HMAS Tobruk.

On 28 January, we were advised that with the decommissioning of HMAS Manoora, and the extended unavailability of HMAS Kanimbla, Navy was maintaining HMAS Tobruk at 48 hours notice for sea to ensure an amphibious lift capability was available.

On 2 February, we were advised that HMAS Tobruk was to commence maintenance work in order to be fully prepared to provide any assistance in the days following Cyclone Yasi, in the event not required.

On 4 February, we were advised that HMAS Tobruk had left its dock and was being prepared to return to 48 hours notice for sea.

This has however not yet occurred as further maintenance issues and problems have been identified.

This work includes efforts to survey, verify, certify and replace a number of safety critical flexible hoses necessary to ensure the safe operation of HMAS Tobruk.

The advice about the amphibious fleet provided by the Secretary of Defence and the Chief of the Defence Force makes it clear that problems with the amphibious fleet have built up over the past decade or more.

It states that many of the seeds of the problems we now face were sown long ago, and insufficient resources have been allocated to address materiel and personnel shortfalls since the ships were brought into service many years ago.

It also states that the establishment of the Seaworthiness Board in 2009 was a long overdue means of providing Chief of Navy with an independent review of maritime systems and its review of the amphibious ships provided a focus on the situation that was not previously available.

It is essential that the problems outlined in the advice are addressed as a matter of priority ahead of the transition to the new Landing Helicopter Dock Ships.

That is why we have asked Mr Rizzo to develop a plan to address the problems identified by the Secretary and the Chief of the Defence Force, to reform these practices, and oversee early stage implementation of those reforms.

Their work will be additional to the new comprehensive transition plan we have asked Defence to prepare to ensure a smooth transition to the introduction of the LHD ships in the middle of the decade.

Media Note:

Reform of Amphibious and Afloat Support Ship Repair and Management Practices Terms of References can be found at:

http://www.defence.gov.au/media/docs/amphibiousReview.doc

Causal factors contributing to the unavailability of the Navy’s two LPAs can be found at:

http://www.defence.gov.au/media/docs/causalFactors.pdf

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