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Saturday, January 30, 2010

TRAINING for the Royal Australian Navy's elite force of submariners will continue despite the virtual crippling of the $6 billion fleet of Collins-Class boats because of chronic onboard mechanical and electrical failures.

Fifty crew from HMAS Farncomb, recalled to port last week after suffering generator failure, will continue their training on a sister ship, HMAS Collins.

HMAS Waller is the only boat in the fleet of six still operational.

Defence sources confirmed to The Australian yesterday that the repair bill for the Farncomb alone is likely to run into the millions of dollars, depending on whether the submarine's inner hull has to be cut open.

The inner hull is constructed of thick high-strength steel designed to withstand extreme outside pressure, while maintaining normal pressure inside the vessel's compartments.

On Monday, Chief of Navy Russ Crane said no lives had been placed at risk as a result of the electrical failure on the Farncomb.

"I am very disappointed by this development," Vice-Admiral Crane said. "Navy will continue to work with the Defence Materiel Organisation, industry and ASC (Australian Submarine Corporation) to determine the extent of the issue and rectify this problem.

"We are working hard to ensure this fault is rectified as soon as possible."

Inspections are now being carried out on the serviceability of the generators onboard the five other boats.

The latest breakdown follows a stream of maintenance problems with the submarine fleet, Australia's frontline defence asset.

As reported in The Australian last October, Defence Minister John Faulkner ordered a review into fleet availability after mechanical problems with the submarine's Swedish-supplied Hedemora diesel engines.

Mechanical and maintenance problems have dogged the sub fleet ever since HMAS Collins was rushed off the slipway in 1996.

Opposition defence spokesman David Johnston said the latest problems aboard the Farncomb raise serious questions about ambitious defence white paper plans for a doubling of the submarine fleet.
Yesterday, navy sources said the Collins, the oldest sub in the fleet, remained fit for training.

Unlike its sister ships, Collins' French-made Jeumont-Schneider generators have been given a clean bill of health.

Under FOI information obtained by The Australian, as of August last year, HMAS Dechaineux was due to complete full-cycle docking early this year, HMAS Sheean was due to complete deep maintenance next year, to be followed by HMAS Rankin. (source theaustralian)