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Navy crew crisis hits warships

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Navy crew crisis hits warships

Article from: Herald Sun


Ian McPhedran


August 23, 2007 12:00am


THE navy's warships are under threat because of a chronic shortage of qualified engineers and warfare officers.


Insiders say the situation is so dire the number of principal warfare officers on the navy's five guided missile frigates has been cut from four to just one or two.


On the eight Anzac class frigates, PWO numbers have fallen in some cases from three to one.


And on some ships the shortage of engineers is so acute they are under way for only 12 out of every 24 hours.


Similar shortfalls are occurring with weapons electrical engineering officers.


The navy said current shortfalls were: 35 per cent for marine engineering officers, 28 per cent for weapons electrical engineering officers and 16 per cent for principal warfare officers.


It denied the shortages posed a risk to the fleet.


"Although current shortages mean that some positions at sea are not filled, manning levels have not been altered," it said in a statement.


The Collins class submarine fleet has regularly been reduced from six to five because of crew shortages on the oldest boat, HMAS Collins.


Even six-figure salaries for 25-year-olds are not solving the submarine crew crisis.


"Retention in critical navy employment categories is being addressed through a range of financial and non-financial measures," the navy said.


At-sea deployments, of up to six months at a time, are being blamed for the crisis.


Skilled technicians are in high demand in the booming resources-driven economy.


As the Government begins to build up to four new hi-tech destroyers and two massive amphibious transport ships, under a $10 billion plan, the demand for personnel with specialised technical skills will increase.


The Government has moved to address the staffing crisis with a $3 billion, 10-year plan aimed at everything from pay to housing.


Defence Minister Brendan Nelson has spoken openly of his concerns about specialist navy officers.


Defence denied that any of its warships were in danger of being tied up, but insiders have said crew shortages have become so acute ships will spend less time at sea.


Young officers serving at sea have said the lower staffing levels also generated heavier workloads for them.


As crew numbers fall, more highly qualified crew are required to undertake menial tasks such as cleaning.


"That is not what we joined for," said one sailor who had just been offered "big bucks" to quit the navy.

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