Defence representatives are set to travel to the Pacific Islands to address newly identified faults in Austal-built patrol boats gifted by the Commonwealth government.
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The Albanese government has been informed of a potential issue in the exhaust system of Austal-built Guardian Class patrol boats delivered to Pacific Island nations as part of the $2.1 billion Pacific Maritime Security Program (PMSP).
According to a statement from the Department of Defence, other faults have also been flagged over the past 16 months, which include cracking in the coupling between the engine and the gearbox, and ventilation issues in the sick bays.
Remediation plans have been developed in response to these previously identified issues.
Representatives from Defence and Austal are expected to travel to Pacific Island nations to assess all Guardian Class vessels gifted by the Commonwealth government under the PMSP, which includes provisions for through-life sustainment and maintenance.
In cooperation with local stakeholders, the representatives will seek to implement “temporary rectification measures” ahead of a “longer-term solution”.
In the meantime, recipients would make independent determinations regarding whether to deploy the boats before issues have been addressed.
“Under the PMSP, the Guardian Class Patrol Boats are the sovereign property of individual Pacific Island nations, and each nation will make its own decision on whether they choose to continue to operate their vessels, or pause operations,” Defence noted.
“…Defence remains committed to our partners in the Pacific and the Pacific Maritime Support Program.
The news comes just weeks after the government announced it would deliver a new Guardian Class patrol boat to Samoa, replacing Nafanua II, which is beyond repair after crashing into a reef in August 2021.
Thus far, 13 Pacific Islands nations have accepted Guardian Class boats into service, including Papua New Guinea, Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Palau, Samoa, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Timor-Leste.
The $2.1 billion PMSP, which involves the delivery of a total of 22 Guardian Class patrol boats, forms part of the Commonwealth government’s broader push to strengthen partnerships with South Pacific nations, particularly amid China’s growing influence in the region.
Most recently, China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi proposed the “China-Pacific Island Countries Common Development Vision”, which offers intermediate and high-level police training for Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, the Cook Islands, Niue, Vanuatu, and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM).
This was accompanied by a five-year action plan, which calls for ministerial dialogue on law enforcement capacity and police cooperation.
This included the provision of forensic laboratories, cooperation on data networks, cyber security, and smart customs systems.
The plan also advocated for a “balanced approach” on technological progress, economic development and national security – backing a China-Pacific Islands Free Trade Area and joint action on climate change and health.
However, Beijing has reportedly withdrawn its proposal after it was met with resistance from some Pacific Islands leaders.
President of the FSM David Panuelo condemned the deal, with Reuters reporting other nations, including Niue, requested an amendment or a delay to the decision.