A navy ship stuck in port for maintenance? Yes, but not the U.S. Navy this time. Down Under this past week, one of Australia’s newer ships developed problems with its propulsion system, according to reports. The amphibious landing ship HMAS Choules was heading from Sydney for a scheduled exercise in Queensland when the ship lost half its power, forcing the ship to return to Sydney.
The 16,000-ton Choules is relatively new to the Royal Australian Navy, but it’s not a brand new ship. Australia bought the ship in December from the Brits – the Largs Bay operated in the fleet since 2006 – for $100 million, apparently “to cover a gap caused by the decommissioning of another heavy transport ship,” the Aussie TV network ABC reported. That prompted an opposition leader to complain the ship is defective.
“The problem is that whilst we have got obvious maintenance and engineering issues with surface ships, we’ve taken money out of the budget so we’ve really thrown petrol onto the flames of what is a very serious problem for an island nation such as ours,” Senator David Johnston told the station, citing maintenance problems that are plaguing another landing ship and an oiler. He’s not just talking at-sea battles but Mother Nature’s wrath, like seasonal cyclones that can ruin coastal areas. Sidelined ships can’t go help when such storms strike, as he said happened after a cyclone devastated an area of Queensland last year. “When the Deputy Commissioner of police – in the face of a very serious cyclone – rings Canberra and says, ‘can I have some amphibious lift capability for Cairns?’ And they have to say, ‘sorry everything we have is broken,’ no I don’t think I am making too much of this.”
It’s a familiar tune we hear more of lately, as national priorities shift with a greater focus on the Asia-Pacific region despite stark budget realities that won’t adequately fund needed ship maintenance and replacements for older or outdated platforms. The Aussies, too, struggle with maintaining and modernizing their fleet, which includes an expanded amphibious capabilities with the first of two Canberra-class helicopter carriers due to arrive in the next few years. At least, that’s the plan.