The Australian Defence Force's amphibious capability was on point in the recent response to Cyclone Debbie, with HMAS Choules delivering one of her largest loads of supplies to affected communities last week.
Working seamlessly with Army’s 35th Water Transport Squadron LCM8 landing craft, 80 troops and 43 vehicles took more than 36 hours to offload 850 tonnes of equipment and disaster relief stores destined for Rockhampton.
After an eight mile journey from the ship, nestled in the lee of the Keppel Islands to the coastal town of Yeppoon and a further 45 kilometres inland by road, the troops, predominately from Brisbane-based 6th Engineer Support Regiment, quickly set to task in a variety of clean up duties around the regional city.
Executive Officer Choules Lieutenant Commander David Clarkson said the 16,000 tonne amphibious ship was well suited to the task.
“HMAS Choules can deal with heavy and awkward vehicles with ease,” he said.
“That’s our speciality.
“The plant equipment delivered ashore can complement local government and civil emergency services in the clearing of debris and re-establishing vital infrastructure.”
Officer Commanding Ship’s Army Department, Major Melissa Hopkins said the amphibious offload was not without its challenges but was exceptionally well executed.
“Amphibious operations are mainly constrained by the environmental conditions and this can sometimes limit the amount of equipment that can disembark at one time,” Major Hopkins said.
“And for many of the Army personnel onboard it was the first time they have embarked in a Royal Australian Navy vessel at sea.
“That said, the camaraderie and the team work has been fantastic.
“The two services were able to come together within a very short time and use their unique skills and experience to work out just how we could support the community in Rockhampton.”
Choules was Navy’s on-call disaster relief vessel at the time and has now returned to normal duties as Queensland moves from emergency response to recovery phase.
She had embarked a full Aero Medical Evacuation capability, consisting of one Medical Officer, one Nursing Officer and one Clinical Manager in addition to other integral medics and an environmental and preventative health team.
Fortunately, these skills were not required.
The ship’s embarked 808 Squadron MRH-90 helicopter conducted reconnaissance flights and community liaison in the Sir James Smith, Lindeman and Whitsundays Island groups before the ship set sail for Rockhampton flood relief efforts.