THE navy has been sold a pup - its new amphibious ship HMAS Choules, delivered earlier this year, will be out of action for up to five months after Defence was unable to find a spare transformer anywhere in the world.
One of two transformers that provide electrical power to the main propulsion generators of the $100 million former Royal Navy ship failed 10 days ago as it was steaming north from its home port of Sydney for an important exercise in Shoalwater Bay.
In July last year The Daily Telegraph revealed an engineer's report into the moth- balled vessel had uncovered serious problems with the ship - including "overheating of the propulsion motors and transformers".
Defence said at the time the problems were minor and had been rectified before contracts were exchanged. However, after a global search for a spare part came up empty, Defence decided to go to the manufacturer of the machines, German company Siemens, and buy a new transformer.
According to well-placed sources, that will mean a four to five month stay in dock at Garden Island and a $1 million plus bill to taxpayers.
The navy's amphibious ship capability has been in crisis and the loss of Choules, formerly the British Royal Fleet Auxiliary Largs Bay, is a major further blow to that capability.
The ship was purchased in 2011.
As a secondhand naval vessel it did not come with a service warranty.
It has also been revealed that the Largs Bay suffered steering and propulsion problems after an engine room fire just four months after it entered service.
She came close to running aground off southern England - with 200 Royal Marines on board - and had to be towed to Plymouth for repairs.
According to Defence, there is no connection between the fire and associated damage and the transformer failure.
"These units are not located in the engine room," a Defence spokesman said.
It is understood the Royal Fleet Auxiliary did not suffer any transformer issues during the vessel's time in service.
"We need to find out if it was system failure or operator error," a Defence source said.
The navy's new civilian amphibious ship ADV Ocean Shield is due to arrive in Fremantle on Thursday en route to its new home port of Sydney, where it will begin operations next month.
Defence said the Choules was inspected by Teekay Shipping before the purchase offer was made.
It said Teekay's report found that "the ship presents very well, and from a technical point of view, there are no major defects".