Faults Found in Australian Naval Patrol Boats Gifted to Pacific Nations

A hiccup has emerged in Australia’s relationship-building efforts in the Pacific after technical defects were discovered in a fleet of Guardian-class patrol boats delivered to island nations under the Pacific Maritime Security Program.The $2.1 billion Program (US$1.45 billion), part of the wider Pacific Step-up initiative, promised the delivery of 22 patrol vessels to Pacific island governments. The vessels are manufactured by Perth-based shipbuilder Austal, which also has a major shipbuilding facility in Alabama and are used to assist with maritime surveillance. So far, 15 boats have been delivered. Australia’s Department of Defence revealed that several issues have been discovered over the past 16 months. In February, cracks were discovered in the couplings between the engine and gearbox. In May, problems with the ventilation system in sick bays were found, as well as issues with the exhaust system, which saw carbon monoxide being pumped into certain compartments. Lieutenant Commander Paulino Yangitesmal, commanding officer and the crew of the FSS Tosiwo Nakayama, the 14th Guardian-class Patrol Boat gifted by the Australian Department of Defence to the Federated States of Micronesia. (Courtesy of Austal Australia). The Defence Department and Austal will dispatch representatives to Pacific nations to look at immediate short-term fixes before considering longer-term solutions. The Guardian-class ships are under the sovereignty of the individual Pacific governments, who will decide whether to continue using the vessels or pause operations. “Defence remains committed to our partners in the Pacific and the Pacific Maritime Support Program,” a Defence Department spokesperson said in a statement. “Our Pacific partners are large ocean states. The [Program] is vital to assisting our partners in exercising their sovereign rights in their maritime domains.” Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy said the Australian government was committed to working through all the challenges to ensure the boats were safe and operational. “We understand how important these vessels are for Australia and our partners in the Pacific. The Guardian patrol boats play a critical role in maritime surveillance activities as well as detecting and deterring illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.” A Speed Bump for Pacific Relations Building Austal is also working to rectify problems with its Independence-class littoral combat ship, manufactured in Mobile, Alabama. Cracks have been found in the hull when the vessels travel faster than 15 knots or in seas where waves rise above eight feet in height. The entire Littoral Combat Ship program has been plagued with problems and cost blow-outs because of overly ambitious design goals, from being able to move quickly and engage enemy fleets in coastal regions to being anti-ship and anti-submarine vessels. USS Montgomery (LCS 8) rolls out of Austal’s Bay 4 in Mobile, Alabama (Supplied by Austal) In contrast, Austal’s offshore patrol cutter vessel for the U.S. Coast Guard has fared much better. The Coast Guard has just signed off on a US$3.3 billion deal to design and construct 11 boats. Meanwhile, for Australia, the hiccup with the Guardian class will likely be watched closely by Beijing, who has been willing to pounce—or piggyback—on any perceived gaps in support that Pacific nations receive from democratic nations. For example, in November last year, the Australian, New Zealand, Fijian, and Papua New Guinean governments sent security forces to the Solomon Islands to help maintain peace after violent riots, which resulted in Honiara’s Chinatown district being razed. Weeks later, Beijing began dispatching police and security “trainers” to assist with training the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force on how to deal with riots. Follow Daniel Y. Teng is based in Sydney. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at [email protected]

Faults Found in Australian Naval Patrol Boats Gifted to Pacific Nations

A hiccup has emerged in Australia’s relationship-building efforts in the Pacific after technical defects were discovered in a fleet of Guardian-class patrol boats delivered to island nations under the Pacific Maritime Security Program.

The $2.1 billion Program (US$1.45 billion), part of the wider Pacific Step-up initiative, promised the delivery of 22 patrol vessels to Pacific island governments.

The vessels are manufactured by Perth-based shipbuilder Austal, which also has a major shipbuilding facility in Alabama and are used to assist with maritime surveillance. So far, 15 boats have been delivered.

Australia’s Department of Defence revealed that several issues have been discovered over the past 16 months.

In February, cracks were discovered in the couplings between the engine and gearbox.

In May, problems with the ventilation system in sick bays were found, as well as issues with the exhaust system, which saw carbon monoxide being pumped into certain compartments.

Epoch Times Photo
Lieutenant Commander Paulino Yangitesmal, commanding officer and the crew of the FSS Tosiwo Nakayama, the 14th Guardian-class Patrol Boat gifted by the Australian Department of Defence to the Federated States of Micronesia. (Courtesy of Austal Australia).

The Defence Department and Austal will dispatch representatives to Pacific nations to look at immediate short-term fixes before considering longer-term solutions.

The Guardian-class ships are under the sovereignty of the individual Pacific governments, who will decide whether to continue using the vessels or pause operations.

“Defence remains committed to our partners in the Pacific and the Pacific Maritime Support Program,” a Defence Department spokesperson said in a statement.

“Our Pacific partners are large ocean states. The [Program] is vital to assisting our partners in exercising their sovereign rights in their maritime domains.”

Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy said the Australian government was committed to working through all the challenges to ensure the boats were safe and operational.

“We understand how important these vessels are for Australia and our partners in the Pacific. The Guardian patrol boats play a critical role in maritime surveillance activities as well as detecting and deterring illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.”

A Speed Bump for Pacific Relations Building

Austal is also working to rectify problems with its Independence-class littoral combat ship, manufactured in Mobile, Alabama. Cracks have been found in the hull when the vessels travel faster than 15 knots or in seas where waves rise above eight feet in height.

The entire Littoral Combat Ship program has been plagued with problems and cost blow-outs because of overly ambitious design goals, from being able to move quickly and engage enemy fleets in coastal regions to being anti-ship and anti-submarine vessels.

Epoch Times Photo
USS Montgomery (LCS 8) rolls out of Austal’s Bay 4 in Mobile, Alabama (Supplied by Austal)

In contrast, Austal’s offshore patrol cutter vessel for the U.S. Coast Guard has fared much better. The Coast Guard has just signed off on a US$3.3 billion deal to design and construct 11 boats.

Meanwhile, for Australia, the hiccup with the Guardian class will likely be watched closely by Beijing, who has been willing to pounce—or piggyback—on any perceived gaps in support that Pacific nations receive from democratic nations.

For example, in November last year, the Australian, New Zealand, Fijian, and Papua New Guinean governments sent security forces to the Solomon Islands to help maintain peace after violent riots, which resulted in Honiara’s Chinatown district being razed.

Weeks later, Beijing began dispatching police and security “trainers” to assist with training the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force on how to deal with riots.


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Daniel Y. Teng is based in Sydney. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at [email protected]