Publication: Mail and Guardian Issued: Date: 2003-01-03 Reporter: Sam Sole Editor:

Bungle Stalls Corvette Delivery


Publication  Mail and Guardian
Date 2003-01-03


Sam Sole

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The handover of the navy’s first corvette warship from the German Frigate Consortium will be delayed by up to five months - at a cost of millions of rands - allegedly owing to the supply of faulty communications cable from a South African company.

At issue is the copper cabling used to provide monitoring and control of the ship’s non-combat systems. The cable is understood to be more than 100 km in total length and connects about 6 000 points within the ship to its central control system.

Armscor spokesman Bertus Cilliers confirmed there was a problem with the cabling supplied by Siemens for the new ship. Christened the Amatola, the pride of the South African fleet was launched in Hamburg, Germany, by first lady Zanele Mbeki in June last year and formed part of South Africa’s arms procurement programme.

Cilliers said Armscor did not have an exact idea of how long the ship was going to be delayed, but he said the navy’s interests were protected in terms of the contract with the German Frigate Consortium: “There are penalties if they don’t perform, if they miss their target dates.”

It is understood that the contract makes provision for a 1% penalty for every 14-day delay, with a maximum of 5%. At a cost of roughly R3 billion for the Amatola, this could amount to R150 million.

The original handover date was set for December 28 2002, but this is understood to have been shifted to February 22. However, well-informed navy sources say the vessel may now only be ready in May for initial handover.

Siemens South Africa spokesman Martin Snoek said the cabling subcontract was handled by Siemens Germany and that he was unable to get any official response over the holiday period.

A senior Siemens employee said much of the cable had been sourced from a small South African company to meet countertrade obligations.

The name of the company is known to the Mail and Guardian, but it could not be reached for comment.

A very senior South African navy official confirmed that the cable failed to meet navy specifications and had failed some performance tests.

The problem had first been picked up about a month ago, he said, meaning that the cable was fully installed.

He emphasised that the responsibility for rectifying the situation lay entirely with the main contractor.

“We don’t yet know what the full implications are. The shipyard is closed. We are expecting an assessment in early January.”

He said there could be no decision about imposing penalties yet, until a detailed assessment had been received from the yard.

“We have no idea of the time frame, but I must emphasise that this is not routine. Either each connection is going to have to be checked in situ, or we are going to have to pull it all out and replace it.”

He said the navy was inclined to favour the latter: “Cabling is one of the components - along with the propulsion system and the hull - that you don’t cut corners with. It has to last the lifetime of the vessel, which we have planned for 30 years.”

He said he expected a major wrangle between shipbuilders Blohm & Voss and the subcontractors over who would carry the cost of sorting out the problem and of any penalties that might be imposed due to the delay.

A senior source within the German Frigate Consortium - the group of companies which won the bid to supply the corvettes - also confirmed the problem, but played down the delay.

“There is a fault in the cabling we got from South Africa, but we are addressing the problem. There will be a minimal delay, perhaps a month.”

The cabling put into a marine vessel has to have high-quality rubber insulation capable of withstanding the rigours of deployment at sea. The insulation was “not strong enough” said the source, perhaps because of a faulty batch of rubber.

He denied that the installation of faulty cable showed a failure of proper quality control: “Sometimes you can’t detect the fault.”

Another engineer with experience in naval matters told the M&G: “The consequences are very severe. We are talking about something in the region of 30 000 man hours to replace the cable - at German prices. And that is a conservative estimate.

“You can run into problems which may mean you take much longer. The cables are laced together and pass through bulkheads via a watertight gland. Those will need to be redone. At a rough estimate it’s a R50 million problem, but that’s only the direct costs.

“A late delivery will impact on all the other subcontractors who are supposed to install the weapons systems and it will play havoc with the navy’s planning.”

With acknowledgements to Sam Sole and the Mail and Guardian.