Chief of Navy – Reporting on HMAS Tobruk and Choules
14 October 2012
On 14 October 2012 there were articles in News Limited newspapers and online with headlines such as “Any Port in a Storm, repairs keep Navy workhorses tied up” (Sunday Mail) and "Broken down HMAS Tobruk, HMAS Choules limit navy's emergency response" (Herald Sun online). Some of the information contained in these articles was inaccurate and misleading.
HMAS Tobruk was commissioned on 23 April 1981. During the last 31 years (not 40 as purported in the article) the ship has provided sterling service and contributed to ADF operations in Somalia, East Timor and the Solomon Islands and conducted extensive work both in Australia and around the South West Pacific. She is, as the articles rightly point out, a workhorse of the fleet.
Tobruk’s ship's company and other Defence support organisations work extremely hard under difficult conditions to keep the ship available as part of the Navy's amphibious and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) force. They do a magnificent job.
The articles stated that Tobruk was “supposed to participate in Exercise Sea Lion.” It did, despite a defect experienced during the exercise that required repair. Sea Lion is predominantly conducted at anchor and imagery of Tobruk conducting the exercise has been quite prominently displayed on the Defence website for a number of days. The exercise provided important basic level amphibious skills for both the ship's company and the Army units involved.
The articles also stated that “$79 million has been ‘earmarked’ for Tobruk’s repair and maintenance over the next two years and that the Government has been asked “for a further $40 million contingency funds”. There is no $40 million contingency fund and the $79 million figure does not align with the most recent advice to the Government. That information was also provided to the journalist on 12 October 2012, which can be found below. The correct figure is $64.4 million.
The articles state that both “HMAS Choules and the civilian charter vessel Ocean Protector are due out of Navy service in 2016”. This information is misleading in that ACV Ocean Protector is not in Navy service as it is chartered by the Australian Customs and Border Protection Services.
The articles are not balanced as they lack any real reference to the third of the Navy's HADR assets, Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield, which also is at sea this weekend.
Ocean Shield arrived in Australia in June 2012 and is able to provide a short notice response for HADR as directed by the Government. Navy is also able to utilise other fleet assets to assist in HADR operations should this be called on, not least of which are our Frigates and Landing Craft Heavy.
Navy is always ready to provide clarification and context on these issues and remains transparent with its responses to media inquiries. The responses which relate to this particular articles are provided below.
1. What is the status of HMAS Tobruk and its clutch problem?
Tobruk is currently on passage to an international exercise. A defect on the clutch assembly for the starboard main engine (referred to in the question) has been rectified.
2. What is the estimated cost of keeping the ship in service until 2014?
The estimated cost of keeping Tobruk in service until 2014 is $64.4 million.
3. When will the Spanish vessel Cantabria enter RAN service and at what cost?
The Spanish Armada Ship SPS Cantabria will not be entering into RAN service. However, it will deploy to Australia from February to November 2013. Australia will be contributing to the operating costs of the deployment. Provision of a broad range of training opportunities means this will be a value for money proposition for the RAN. The RAN and the Spanish Armada are working together to finalise the details of the deployment.
4. What is the latest cost estimate for repairs to HMAS Choules?
The cost of purchasing a new transformer to replace the defective transformer is estimated to be up to $2 million. This cost will be met by Navy’s sustainment budget
5. When is the ship due back in service?
On current plans the repairs on HMAS Choules are expected to be completed during December 2012, but investigations into the premature aging of the transformers are continuing. Once repairs are complete she will be available to return to sea.