Tongyeong to be put into service, flaws and all
The military said on Monday it plans to deploy a problem-ridden new rescue and salvage ship, which became a symbol of dodgy procurement procedures, to replace aged vessels currently in operation.
“We need to operationally deploy Tongyeong as soon as possible in order to replace the aged salvage and rescue ships,” said a senior military official. “To this end, the Joint Chiefs of Staff will discuss a plan to deploy the ship first and later modify the functions that have failed to meet the standards at its meeting on Friday.”
In an attempt to upgrade the country’s two aging rescue ships, the Pyeongtaek and Gwangyang, the Navy commissioned an ambitious project to build a next-generation rescue and salvage ship. The 3,500-ton Tongyeong was completed in 2012 at the price of 159 billion won ($143 million).
The Navy, however, has refused to accept the delivery of the ship from builder Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering, complaining that its equipment didn’t work properly. Daewoo said the Defense Acquisition Program Administration provided it with substandard hull-mounted sonar systems and remotely operated underwater vehicles, commonly known as ROVs.
If the Joint Chiefs of Staff decides Friday to deploy the Tongyeong, it will be the first time the military accepts delivery of a program that failed to meet required operational conditions.
The Navy said it will modify the sonar and ROVs over the years if the decision is made. A military official said it will take at least two years for the systems to be upgraded to meet the standards.
“Tongyeong can still perform the basic missions of a rescue ship,” the military official said. He said underwater search operations can still be carried out by the ship’s side-scan sonar system.
The substandard sonar system currently installed on the ship won’t be used for any mission, he added.
The Gwangyang was built in 1968 and its retirement is 16 years overdue. The Pyeongtaek, built in 1972, completed its 30-year intended lifespan 12 years ago. Military officials have shown particular concern about the safety of Gwangyang.
After the two ships failed to perform their missions effectively after the sinking of the Cheonan warship in March 2010, the Navy promised to upgrade its rescue ship. It was unable to use the Tongyeong, however, when the ferry Sewol sank last April because the Navy had not accepted its delivery.
BY SER MYO-JA [firstname.lastname@example.org]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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