Exhausted naval technicians claim they are battling temperatures of up to 50 degrees Celsius as they work around the clock to repair a power failure that has crippled Australia’s largest warship, HMAS Adelaide, in the Pacific.
The ABC has also been told the number of Covid-19 cases on board the vessel known as a “landing helicopter dock” (LHD) is continuing to rise, with some defence sources suggesting up to 70 crew members have now tested positive to the virus.
“Some of the marine technicians are experiencing heat exhaustion, as they pull 12- to 14-hour days in 50-degree engine rooms,” a person familiar with the situation says.
“The ship isn’t fixed; it cannot move and there is more for them to fix!” the defence source told the ABC, speaking on condition of anonymity.
HMAS Adelaide had been completing a humanitarian mission delivering supplies to tsunami-devastated Tonga when the massive power outages hit the Spanish-built warship last week.
Sources on board the ship told the ABC the ship was “stranded” for a period of time, because of a “total power failure”, including the backup power.
Ahead of the LHD’s arrival in Tonga, a Covid-19 outbreak emerged on board despite extensive screening of the ship’s crew before their departure from Brisbane.
Last week Defence Minister Peter Dutton confirmed 23 positive cases had been detected at sea, but the ABC has been told that figure has now risen to as high as 70.
In an email obtained by the ABC, HMAS Adelaide’s commander has described conditions on board as “uncomfortable”, but Defence insists “essential functions such as refrigeration and sanitation systems are up and running”.
The Defence Department has also revealed “air-conditioning is operational in most areas of the ship” and “back-up power has been activated”.
RAAF flights carrying spare parts
RAAF planes are believed to have arrived in Tonga, carrying spare parts needed to fix the problems hampering HMAS Adelaide.
On Monday the Defence Department revealed civilian specialists were already “en route to conduct an assessment of the affected systems”.
The ABC has been told the complex repair operation involves obtaining spare parts and equipment from “all over Australia including Western Australia” and then flying them to Tonga under strict Covid-19 protocols.
The Defence Department has so far declined to respond to a series of detailed questions sent by the ABC regarding the current status of HMAS Adelaide and the crew on board.
Independent Senator and former Royal Australian Navy submariner Rex Patrick says he is particularly alarmed at the picture emerging from HMAS Adelaide.
“What we are seeing reportedly is that there is a total of power failure,” Senator Patrick said.
“If that is the case, that means there is a single point of failure and you cannot have that on the warship and we will definitely have to look at the details of what happened there, because that is not acceptable.”