|Cameron Stewart | January 31, 2009
Article from: The Australian
ONE hundred Royal Australian Navy submariners will be flown around the world at taxpayers' expense in coming weeks to conduct submarine escape training, despite those training facilities existing at their base in Perth.
Their $2.3 million business-class trip comes as a confidential audit report on the management of the navy's Collins Class submarines, obtained by The Weekend Australian, delivered a damning assessment of submarine escape and rescue services, saying they were unsafe, unreliable and had been mismanaged.
The navy is flying its submariners from Perth to Halifax on Canada's east coast because of a bungled Defence Department tender that left it unable to use its $25 million facility for pressurised escape training at HMAS Stirling in Perth.
The pressure escape training facility, described on navy's website as "the most advanced of its kind in the world today", has not been used since last May after a tender dispute between the navy and the Australian Submarine Corporation.
With the facility lying idle, the navy has been forced to send its submariners overseas to receive pressurised training on how to exit a stricken submarine at depths of up to 180m.
The escape training is mandatory for all new submariners and all qualified submariners must take a refresher course every three years.
"Plans are presently in place to requalify up to 100 sailors in Canada in the near term," a Defence Department spokesman said.
"Canada was identified as the best option as it meets the pressurised training requirements and has the training capacity to meet Australian needs within the designated timefame."
The taxpayer-funded trip is the result of a dispute between the navy and ASC last year, which has left the navy with no contractor to manage its submarine escape training facility in Perth.
A forthcoming audit report is expected to be highly critical of the management of submarine escape and rescue services.
The Australian last month revealed there was no viable rescue equipment in Australia to help stricken submariners because the equipment had failed to gain safety certification.
A leaked draft report by the Australian National Audit Office goes further, citing serious shortcomings in management, procedures and equipment, which have undermined the prospects of a successful submarine rescue.
A draft version of the report, due to be tabled in parliament in coming months, cites the findings of an internal navy safety study that admits "a robust safety management system is not in place" for submarine rescue.
For deep-sea submarine rescues, the navy uses a 16.5-tonne rescue vehicle called Remora, which attaches to the sunken submarine and brings six survivors at a time to the surface.
The Remora is in storage after it failed to regain its safety certification after an accident off the coast of Perth in December 2006 when a snapped cable caused two men to be trapped inside the vessel for 12 hours at a depth of 140m.
The draft ANAO report says Remora has previously been subjected to unauthorised alterations and inadequate maintenance.
At present, any stricken Collins Class submarine would have to wait until a rescue vehicle was brought out from Britain, raising doubts about whether it could be deployed in time to save the lives of the crew.