Australia’s purchase of an amphibious ship from the Royal Navy at the bargain basement price of A$100 million could save Australian taxpayers at least three times that amount, a senior defence analyst says.

The operations and capability director for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Andrew Davies, said A$400 million to A$500 million had been set aside as the probable cost of acquiring an amphibious ship for the Royal Australian Navy in the second half of the decade. He said yesterday’s announcement that the cash-strapped British Government had agreed to sell Australia its five-year-old Largs Bay was great news for Australia.

At 16,000 tonnes it is twice the size of the troubled Manoora and Kanimbla sea-lift ships and, unlike those which were found to be dilapidated after they were purchased from the United States, is in good condition.

The new addition to the fleet can carry as much as the Manoora, Kanimbla and Tobruk combined.

After being stung by its last second-hand ship purchase, Defence is undertaking an unusually cautious due diligence process with the Largs Bay.

”Before we put in our bid we did the due diligence that is proper and necessary,” Defence Materiel Minister Jason Clare said yesterday.

”We asked TK Marine to do an assessment of the material state of the ship. Their assessment is the ship is in good condition.” To make sure of the assessment, however, the sale is conditional on a ”full sea trial”.

Australia’s sea-lift capacity crisis came to a head in the days before Cyclone Yasi when it was revealed that despite claims by Defence chiefs HMAS Tobruk was in a state of 48-hour preparedness, the ageing vessel had a serious rust issue and was not fit to put to sea.

With the Manoora decommissioned a few weeks before and the Kanimbla undergoing major repairs, that meant Australia had no sea-lift capacity, a source of major embarrassment for Defence Minister Stephen Smith.

Mr Davies said after the recent purchase of a fifth C-17 Globemaster from the United States at a cost of $300 million, the Defence Department had spent its current $450million surplus wisely.

”We are getting capability delivered earlier and we are saving money in the process,” he said.

He said Australia had not been the only party bidding for the Largs Bay. ”I believe Chile had an interest in acquiring the Largs Bay as well, but that they have possibly moved on to a French vessel,” he said.