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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 October, 2004, 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK
Canada defends submarine fleet
HMCS Chicoutimi
The HMCS Chicoutimi came into service on Saturday
Canada has defended its decision to buy second-hand submarines after a crewman died from injuries sustained on one of the vessels that had broken down.

The HMCS Chicoutimi was on its maiden voyage after being handed over to the Canadian navy when a fire broke out.

The Liberal government has been accused of ignoring a number of serious technical problems with four submarines it bought from Britain.

It says fire is a routine risk on all of the navy's ships and submarines.

'Good buy'

Prime Minister Paul Martin announced the sailor's death in parliament, which observed a moment of silence.

Earlier, his minority Liberal government was accused of wasting the C$900m ($720m) it has paid to buy and refurbish the submarines.

Described by the navy as a good buy in 2002, the vessels were bought for C$750m in 1998 after being decommissioned by the British navy when it decided to switch to an all-nuclear fleet.

All have been beset by problems and none are currently in commission.

HMCS Chicoutimi drifting. Pic courtesy of the RAF
The HMCS Chicoutimi was left drifting in the Atlantic
As well as cracks, leaks and rusty valves, a report in the Times last month suggested that one of the submarines had "a dent the size of a large pizza".

The HMCS Chicoutimi is thought to have been stripped for parts in an attempt to get the three other submarines working.

"It's not the case we've just had a few problems. I think there's been some chronic problems with those submarines," said Bill Blaikie, an MP for the left-leaning New Democrats.

He said the vessels were "obviously inferior submarines", adding that "the government should be willing to be more honest with itself about what it got itself into".

"They wanted a military capability on the cheap. This is a pattern with the Liberals," opposition Conservative MP Gordon O'Connor, a retired army general, told reporters on Tuesday.

Risk

Defence Minister Bill Graham insisted that Canada did get value for money.

"There [are] always problems with machinery," he told parliament before the news of Lt Saunders' death.

"I don't think we should abandon a successful programme because we have a setback, however serious that may be," he added.

Chief of defence staff Gen Ray Henault also defended the government's decision to buy the vessels.

"Risk is what we deal with in the Canadian forces. And this does not, in any way, diminish the value of the submarines," Gen Henault said on Wednesday.

"This [fire] is something that can occur on any submarine, indeed any vessel, aircraft or vehicle that we have," he told a news conference.





SEE ALSO:
Yard completes submarine work
29 Sep 03  |  Cumbria


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