THE Royal Australian Navy is screening more than 1000 British sailors facing redundancy under Britain's defence cuts for possible employment down under.
The recruitment program is targeted at critical skill shortages in the Australian fleet, particularly of engineers.
The Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, said mining industry recruiters wait on the docks in Western Australia for engineers and other skilled naval personnel when they disembark. It is the 18th century press gang in reverse.
''Navy has been closely consulting with the Royal Navy on options for RN personnel affected by the downsizing,'' a Defence spokeswoman said. ''The RAN is presenting itself to personnel identified for redundancy as one of their career transition options - if they meet the RAN's requirements.''
The Herald was told the Royal Navy - which says it is providing redundant personnel with ''a comprehensive resettlement package'' - is ''very comfortable'' with actions being taken by the RAN.
More than 5000 Royal Navy personnel are to be made redundant between now and 2015 as part of the downsizing of Britain's defence force ordered by the Conservative government in response to the global financial crisis.
About a third of the 1000-strong first round of redundancies are involuntary.
Britain has already decommissioned HMS Ark Royal, the flagship of her fleet and the sister ship of the HMS Invincible which saw service during the Falklands war. Ark Royal's squadron of Harrier jump jets is also being scrapped. The carrier and her aircraft saw action during the Balkans crisis and the second Gulf war.
There are strong cultural similarities between the Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy which operated as one until the end of World War II. There is also a long history of personnel transferring from one to the other.
It appears unlikely the British redundancies will help the RAN boost the number of its submariners in the near future.
The Royal Navy has no plans to reduce the size of its submarine fleet until the late 2020s when the first of a new class of ballistic missile submarines - or ''boomers'' - comes on line.
Australia now has three crews for its troubled Collins class submarines. This is only sufficient to have two of the six boats in the fleet operational at any one time.
The RAN has already taken advantage of the original senior service's funding crisis by snapping up one of the Royal Navy's recently constructed Bay class amphibious support ships. Renamed HMAS Choules, the former Largs Bay arrived in Australia this month.