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Sunday, May 22, 2011

The delivery of three corvettes destined for the Royal Navy of Oman is resecheduled

By Andrew Chuter
Published: 5 May 2011 08:31
The delivery of three corvettes destined for the Royal Navy of Oman has been hit by the discovery of a series of engineering problems found during sea trials of Al Shamikh, the first of class being built by BAE Systems Surface Ships.

The British naval shipbuilder said it was in discussion with the Omani navy to resolve the difficulties and agree to a new delivery schedule for the 2,500 ton vessels.

"A number of engineering issues have arisen and the company is working with the RNO to address these and to agree a revised delivery program," said a company spokesman.

The spokesman declined to give an estimate of the potential delay in handing over the ships while the two sides were in discussions over re-baselining the program. He also declined to specify the nature of the engineering issues.

Industry executives, though, said the problems were sufficient to delay the program by several months.

Oman is a key export market for the British defense industry. BAE is involved in talks with the Gulf State government to complete a multibillion-pound deal to sell Typhoon fighters to the air force. That deal is months behind its expected conclusion date.

The problems on the corvettes were uncovered during Al Shamikh's platform and machinery sea trials earlier this year off the south coast of England. Speed, propulsion and maneuverability trials were undertaken in the test phase which ended in February.

The warship was scheduled to undertake combat systems trials in the second quarter of this year ahead of handover to the Omanis around the middle of the year.

Delivery of the warships is already behind schedule. The first vessel, Al Shamikh, should originally have been handed over in early 2010 with the other two vessels following at six-month intervals.

The final vessel, Al Rahmani, is now due to be launched in the next couple of months, said the spokesman.

The contract was originally secured in 2007 by the VT Group in a warships and training deal valued at 400 million pounds.

VT subsequently merged its shipbuilding operations in a joint venture with BAE and soon after that sold its share of the business to its partner.

In its 2010 annual report, BAE said it had encountered significant difficulties in the Oman program and a separate VT deal to supply three offshore patrol vessels to Trinidad and Tobago, leading to further delays and losses of 163 million pounds.

The spokesman said the latest Omani problems would involve further costs but wouldn't be drawn on the possible scale.

Last year Trinidad and Tobago cancelled its contract and the OPVs are now being offered on the international market - most notably Brazil where it is part of a package of warships being offered by the British to meet a potentially huge local requirement.

In a separate move, Alan Johnston, the managing director of BAE's Maritime Division, which includes the surface ship operations, unexpectedly left the company in late April.

The BAE spokesman said the executive, who is 61, had asked to take early retirement.

His position is temporarily being filled by Nigel Whitehead, the group managing director for programs and support.

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