An Australian Navy task group departed from their Fleet Base East homeport early on New Year’s Day, in order to support multi-agency efforts to provide assistance to communities affected by bushfires on the Australian east coast.
The task force consists of the Landing Ship Dock HMAS Choules and the multi-role aviation training vessel MV Sycamore. It also includes an MRH-90 Taipan Maritime Support Helicopter from 808 Squadron and a specialised Aero Medical Evacuation (AME) capability from the Maritime Operational Health Unit.
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In addition to the Navy personnel, the task group also includes Army personnel as well as Defence Contractors who operate Sycamore.
Choules’ Commanding Officer, Commander Scott Houlihan, noted the significant effort for many to re-join the ships at short notice for the response.
When the call came out in the late afternoon of New Year’s Eve, the ships’ companies gladly stepped up to the challenge, and both ships were underway less than 17 hours later
Commander Houlihan said.
With the challenge of getting the ships underway achieved, the focus turned to the additional capabilities that might be required to support the people in the affected communities on the Victorian and southern NSW coastline.
With thousands of Victorians being isolated for several days, it was identified that a specialised AME capability could enhance Choules’ organic medical capability, so a team of permanent and reserve Defence medical personnel was established and was transferred to the ship by helicopter.
Situations like this provide an opportunity for Defence to demonstrate the diversity and flexibility of our capabilities, and are built upon the continuous contingency planning efforts that occur across the enterprise
Commander Houlihan added.
Choules has also embarked an Army Amphibious Beach Team, which will assess landing sites for potential boat operations utilising the range of vessels embarked.
The two ships arrived in the affected areas of Victoria, with the first priority being to engage with the local community leaders and the State emergency authorities to determine how the task group can best support other agencies in the relief efforts.