FEATURE | Naval vessels support emergency services in Australian bushfire crisis

The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) has so far deployed three vessels to support the national response to the bushfires currently devastating many areas of Australia.

The amphibious warfare vessel Choules (ex-British Royal Fleet Auxiliary [RFA] Largs Bay), and the Vietnam-built, mainly contractor-manned, multi-role aviation training vessel Sycamore, deployed from Sydney on January 1 in order to support ongoing firefighting, and rescue, operations in northeast Victoria and the south coast of New South Wales.

The immediate priority for the RAN ships is the evacuation of people trapped by the fires in and around the coastal town of Mallacoota, Victoria. The evacuation commenced on January 2, with people being ferried by RHIBs to Choules, which is anchored 1.5 nautical miles offshore.

Both ships have flight decks, and comprehensive helicopter support capabilities. Choules also has a submersible well deck, and copious internal space, ensuring that it is particularly well suited to disaster response duties.

Choules’ sister ship, Mounts Bay, which is still in RFA service, played a major role in disaster relief operations last year in the Caribbean, following the passage of Hurricane Dorian.

On January 3, the 27,500-tonne landing helicopter dock (LHD) Adelaide, loaded with emergency relief supplies, set out from Sydney. The LHD brings to the RAN support operation an additional range of capabilities, including a flight deck with six helicopter landing spots, four 23-metre waterjet-powered Navantia LCM-1E landing craft, and medical facilities.

RAN Taipan and Seahawk helicopters are already carrying out reconnaissance, logistic and evacuation operations in support of firefighters, and additional helicopters, including twin rotor Chinooks, which can be accommodated on Choules’ and Adelaide’s flight decks, are to be deployed.

Trevor Hollingsbee

Maritime security expert and columnist, Trevor Hollingsbee was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, Senior Superintendent with the Hong Kong Marine Police, Assistant Secretary for Security in the British Hong Kong Government Security Branch, and Intelligence Analyst in the UK Ministry of Defence. As an independent defence and security analyst he has had some 1,500 articles on maritime security, and geopolitical topics, published in a range of international journals and newspapers. He is an Associate Fellow of the Nautical Institute, and a past Vice-Chairman of the Institute’s Hong Kong branch.