No Extra Bill For Charles Upham

  • Paul East

The $30 million-plus it could cost to convert HMNZS Charles Upham into an effective military sealift vessel was not additional expenditure, Minister of Defence, Hon Paul East, said today.

The Minister was responding to media statements suggesting that "defence chiefs" will have to spend an extra $30 million to remedy stability problems in the ship.

"The project, approved by the Government in 1994, envisaged two stages - the purchase of a roll-on/roll-off vessel, followed by her conversion to a fully effective sealift vessel.

"The approved package for the purchase of the ship and modifications to her was $26 million ($14.15 million for the ship). An additional $34 million was budgeted to bring the vessel to full operational readiness. Those sums have not changed. The proposed modifications remain within the 1994 budget," said Mr East.

The Minister said it was not correct to suggest that the Ministry was unaware of stability issues before buying the ship.

"These were known when our officials were assessing the ship, and recommendations for enhancing her stability were, in fact, part of the modification package approved by the Government at the time.

"In February, aware of these rumours about the suitability of the ship, I commissioned an independent report from naval architects Pacific Marine Management Ltd."

"Their report concluded that the Mercandian Queen (the original name of the Charles Upham) was a suitable ship for conversion to a military sealift ship. It also concluded that all serious options were evaluated properly before purchase, and that none of these provided a better option than the ship we bought.

"In short, the Navy acquired this ship at a reduced price, knowing that modifications would be required. No other ship offered comparable value.

"We now have a report from respected naval experts who have independently confirmed the validity of the decision taken by Defence," said Mr East.