MoD under fire for 'unsafe' ship

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The Independent Online
The Government was embroiled in a row yesterday amid accusations that the Ministry of Defence had risked the lives of British servicemen on a chartered Ukrainian ship now impounded by the US authorities as being unsafe.

"This is plainly a matter of the utmost gravity," said Dr David Clark, Labour's defence spokesman. He said he would be raising the issue "at the highest possible level" with a demand for a full and penetrating inquiry and with Commons questions to Michael Portillo, the Secretary of State for Defence.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed that the vessel, the Kapitan Mezentsev was taking part in manoeuvres off North Carolina when it was seized by the US Coastguard after failing a routine safety inspection.

The spokeswoman also confirmed that the 20,000-tonne roll-on roll-off ship had since been undergoing repairs at Wilmington, North Carolina, near the US Marine base where more than 50,000 British and American servicemen are conducting exercises codenamed Purple Star.

Dr Clark said: "It is outrageous that we are reduced to hiring ships from the Eastern European bloc which turn out to be unfit and unsafe. This is a blatant case where the lives of British servicemen are being put at risk and millions of pounds worth of vital, high-tech military equipment is being endangered. It is nothing short of a scandal.

"It is absolutely outrageous, as well as being ludicrous, that we are being forced to charter foreign ships for these purposes. It was bad enough having to charter them for the Gulf war. And we just about tolerated having to charter Danish ships to get men and equipment to Bosnia.

"The Ministry of Defence must start getting its act together. I shall be calling on Mr Portillo to ensure that in future reliable British ships are available for these vital duties."