Did contract row lead to the navy quitting the Caribbean?

Port of Spain in sea trials
Port of Spain in sea trials
HMS Queen Elizabeth

Aircraft carrier project leaves defence budgets ‘exposed’, MPs warn

Have your say

THE government has been accused of pulling Royal Navy warships out of the Caribbean because Trinidad and Tobago cancelled a £150m deal to buy three patrol ships from BAE Systems.

The Caribbean nation pulled out of a purchase of three offshore patrol vessels from BAE in September last year – despite the ships nearing completion at Portsmouth Naval Base.

The navy announced this week that it will not have a warship on patrol in the region for the first time since the Second World War.

‘This is just an example of what countries will do to you when you interfere with them,’ said Trinidad and Tobago MP Colm Imbert.

He added: ‘I will not be surprised if the withdrawal of the Royal Navy from the Caribbean Sea is a reaction to our reneging as a country on the contract we had with the British government for the acquisition of offshore patrol vessels.

‘In international circles, they call this leverage.’

The £150m contract for the purchase of the three patrol ships was signed off as part of a government-to-government arrangement with VT Shipbuilding in April 2007.

In October 2009, BAE acquired full control of VT.

All three ships – to be used against drug barons and marauding pirates – were built in Portsmouth and were just months away from completion when the deal collapsed.

The first ship, Port of Spain, had even gone for sea trials in the Solent. It is believed Trinidad and Tobago pulled out because of frustration over cost over-runs and delays with the project.

Mr Imbert expressed concern that the region’s coastline will be rife with crime now there are no warships on patrol there.

He said: ‘Who is going to secure borders so that we are not subject to international money laundering, international terrorists and narco traffickers?’

The Ministry of Defence denied the decision had been made because of a spat over the off-shore vessels.

A spokesman said: ‘We’ve made it clear why we are doing what we are doing.

‘It was a difficult decision that had to be made as a result of the Strategic Security and Defence Review.’

The MoD maintains it will retain a permanent Caribbean presence.

But this will be performed by a civilian-manned Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship in what will be largely a disaster relief role. Navy personnel will be on the ship at certain times of the year.

BAE Systems declined to comment.