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Biggest losers: NZ rejects our 'fat' frigates
May 3, 2009
NEW Zealand is claiming two Australian-built frigates are unseaworthy and refusing to accept the vessels, leaving them in limbo at the Williamstown docks.
Revelations about the dispute are embarrassing for Canberra, which has just announced a multibillion-dollar investment in naval shipbuilding as the centrepiece of a new defence white paper.
Shortcomings in the construction of the Otago and Wellington patrol vessels have also disrupted New Zealand's naval expansion, with its Defence Minister, Wayne Mapp, describing the project as "a mess".
Defence contractor BAE Systems, which inherited the deal to build the vessels after taking over defence builder Tenix last year, has confirmed to The Sunday Age that two patrol vessels ordered by New Zealand in 2004 have been rejected, and both parties are now locked in mediation.
The New Zealand Government is claiming that the vessels, each worth about $70 million, would be about 100 tonnes overweight and unable to sail in Antarctic waters, with insufficient allowance for extra equipment to be added.
"(The two vessels) are the subject of mediation between ourselves and the New Zealand Government," a BAE spokesman said.
"There are a range of issues that are yet to be settled before the customer will accept those vessels. We need to be comfortable that we are prepared to enter into an arrangement with them."
"So we are basically in negotiations and that's ongoing, but at this stage those vessels have not yet entered service."
Dr Mapp, who travelled to Melbourne in February for talks with BAE Systems, has described the project in the New Zealand media as "a mess which we are working hard to clean up". The vessels were among seven ordered as part of New Zealand's $400 million "Project Protector", all of which had been due at the end of 2007.
Of the seven vessels that had originally been ordered from Tenix, only one, the multi-role HMNZS Canterbury, is now in service, with four small patrol vessels due to become operational within weeks.
But even the Canterbury has been plagued by problems, with design flaws reportedly restricting operations.
The New Zealand Navy has also been reported as saying the Gemini rigid-hulled inflatable boats that were to be supplied with all the ships do not meet requirements and is demanding Zodiacs instead.
The Otago and the Wellington were given sea trials last year, and the ships were said to be ready for delivery, but last November their crews of 70 were sent home while "contractual issues" were negotiated.
The BAE Systems spokesman said it remained unclear when the vessels would be delivered, because the dispute had yet to be resolved.
The biggest concern remains the weight of the ships. An ice protection belt, installed so the ships can be used in the Ross Sea, would sit below the waterline when extra weight was added for operational equipment and repairs.
It was critical that the ice belt sat on the waterline, especially as a build-up of ice on the ships would add extra weight, a Defence Ministry official said.