Border security and fisheries protection shortchanged

Green Defence spokesperson Keith Locke is happy the Government is replacing the frigate Canterbury with a multipurpose ship and at least two patrol boats, but believes they should have spent more on boosting the navy’s patrol capacity.

“The cost of replacing the Canterbury with a new frigate would have been much greater than the $500 million allocated. Phasing out the other two frigates would also free up money for capital spending, they cost $400 million a year to run,” he said.

“The February 2001 Maritime Patrol Review recommended three to four new patrol boats, and two new inshore vessels for Customs use,” said Mr Locke. “The Government should have at least met these recommendations.

“Instead an upgrade of the existing five inshore patrol craft has been floated. This would achieve little because these boats won’t be much use in emergencies because they are so slow.

The main problems our boats should be dealing with are illegal fishing, biosecurity and drug smuggling. Yet Customs and the Ministry of Fisheries are not being given enough capacity to deal with these threats, particularly close to the shore.

“All the new ships need to be configured to enable several government agencies to work together – Defence, Customs, Fisheries, MAF, Immigration, the Police and the Department of Conservation.

Mr Locke said he had concerns that there were indications the multipurpose vessel was already being heavily weighed in favour of defence duties, instead of being truly multipurpose, as recommended by the independent February review.

“The announcement that the multipurpose boat will be used as be used as a training ship for frigates, and will have Seasprite helicopters on it, is worrying in this respect. The Seasprites are attack helicopters, not designed for transporting goods and people in civil emergencies. Too great a focus on frigate training could see the ship fitted out with unnecessary and expensive electronics, rather than being configured for disaster relief, sealifts and other jobs in the South Pacific.

“Today’s decision is a step towards a navy that can deal with the primarily non-military threats in the South Pacific. We don’t want our navy geared to outdated naval combat scenarios. Our new boats should be truly multi-role, handling the range of threats off our coasts, and not be junior partners in a frigate-based navy,” said Mr Locke.