Faults found in $2b worth of Australian patrol boats gifted to Pacific nations

SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG) - A number of faults have been discovered in a fleet of Australian vessels gifted to Pacific nations under a A$2.1 billion (S$2.01 billion) initiative, complicating relations at a time when Canberra is trying to build up goodwill in the region.

Under Australia's Pacific Maritime Support Programme, the government is working to provide 22 Guardian-class patrol boats to its partners in the region to help them in their naval operations and maritime surveillance.

At least five of the vessels have already been supplied to the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Palau.

But in a statement from Australia's Department of Defence, the government said there were a number of problems with the vessels, including a newly discovered fault found in the boats' exhaust system.

Among the other issues discovered over the past year-and-a-half were cracking in the coupling between the engine and the gearbox, and ventilation issues in the sick bays.

According to the Guardian Australia, among the faults was the potential for carbon monoxide to leak into parts of the vessels.

The defence department said in its statement that Pacific nations would have to decide individually whether to continue using the boats.

"Representatives soon will travel to Pacific island nations to assess all vessels and work with (them) on temporary rectification measures ahead of a longer-term solution," the department said in a statement.

The maintenance difficulties come at a bad time for Australia, when it is attempting to build closer ties with Pacific nations in the wake of a push by Beijing to grow its presence in the region.

Australia's Foreign Minister Penny Wong has made three trips to the Pacific to meet with regional leaders since she was sworn in as the country's top diplomat in late May.

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