SYDNEY - It had all the ingredients of a good story, involving sexual peccadilloes at sea, but it wasn't true, say Australian Opposition politicians, who called on the Navy yesterday to apologise to three sailors sent home following allegations that they competed to sleep with female officers and lesbians.

According to the claims, first aired on the Channel Seven network in July, the trio on the supply ship HMAS Success detailed their exploits in a book called The Ledger. Dollar values were placed on each female sailor and more points were awarded for bedding officers and lesbians, or for having sex in unusual locations.

The scandal emerged when Success was in Singapore, and the captain immediately removed the three men. The Navy began an internal investigation, the results of which have not yet been published.

But Opposition defence spokesman David Johnston claimed yesterday that it exonerated the sailors. He said the Navy knew within two days that the allegations were unfounded.

"These three men, who have an aggregate of 40 years of service, have been absolutely disgracefully defamed for no good reason, and the Navy sat back and watched it happen."

The claims came from a disgruntled sailor who had faced review by one of the three, Johnston claimed.

Defence Minister John Faulkner and the Navy chief, Vice-Admiral Russ Crane, stressed yesterday that the inquiry had not yet been completed.

The head of the Australian Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, also warned against leaping to judgment before the full facts were known.