A SHORTFALL of Australian Defence Force personnel that has resulted in an upgraded warship being left in dry dock since 2017 could be fixed by using civilian merchant seafarers, the Maritime Union of Australia says.

The ABC and other media organisations have reported that ANZAC-class frigate HMAS Perth has been in dry dock after the completion of a major refit and upgrade because the Royal Australian Navy had been unable to crew the vessel.

MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin said a number of naval support vessels were already successfully crewed by civilians.

“Australian taxpayers should be shocked to learn that after spending millions upgrading a major warship, it has been left in dry dock because the ADF lacks adequate personnel to put it to sea,” Mr Crumlin said.

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“Additional recruitment and training may provide long-term solutions, but in the short-term the ADF should be looking to expand the use of Australian merchant seafarers in a range of auxiliary roles including supply vessels, training ships and tankers.”

Mr Crumlin said Australian seafarers had a proven track record of operating support vessels.

“Defence could immediately free up uniformed naval personnel to crew HMAS Perth by transferring them from auxiliary and support vessels, with those roles filled by highly-skilled and experienced civilian seafarers,” he said.

“This model has already been successfully demonstrated, with the Navy’s new aviation training vessel MV Sycamore crewed by civilian seafarers since its launch in 2016.”

Mr Crumlin said merchant seafarers worked on a range of support vessels for providing government services, but this model had room for substantial expansion.

“While the decline of Australia’s merchant shipping fleet has seen a terrible loss of skills and experience from the Australian coastline, it does provide a unique opportunity for the Navy to put those skilled, experienced seafarers to work,” he said.

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