Career progression on operations: stokers look to the future

This article has photo gallery Published on POIS Ollie Garside (photographer), LEUT Sarah West (photographer)

Topic(s): Operation SLIPPER, HMAS Newcastle (F06)

Able Seaman Marine Technician Mitchell Summers mans the Electrical Plant Control Console (EPCC) during a training exercise onboard HMAS Newcastle. (photo: POIS Ollie Garside)
Able Seaman Marine Technician Mitchell Summers mans the Electrical Plant Control Console (EPCC) during a training exercise onboard HMAS Newcastle.

HMAS Newcastle’s Marine Engineering Department is on a mission to enhance and develop the professional knowledge and competencies of its Marine Technicians (MT) while deployed to the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO). 

Midway through the ship’s six-month deployment, Newcastle has already conducted more than 100 boarding operations to counter piracy, smuggling and terrorism in the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea, the Arabian Gulf and the Indian Ocean.

Despite the ship’s high operational tempo, the Marine Engineering Department has gone from strength to strength thanks to the mentoring of some forward thinking senior sailors and a willingness to learn amongst its junior ranks. 

Chief Petty Officer MT (CPOMT) Julie Cocks said the ship’s operational deployment was proving to be advantageous to her department’s training objectives.

“The best time for any ship to conduct training is when it is at sea, so we recognised early on that this six-month deployment would be the perfect opportunity to do some quality training and progress the careers of our sailors,” CPOMT Cocks said.

“The senior sailors in the department have been extremely focused on lifting the standards of knowledge across the board. 

“They are not only mentoring those who are studying towards gaining new qualifications, but also helping those that already hold competencies to broaden the depth of their knowledge.” 

Leading Seaman Marine Technician Romney Reyes relays vital information to the bridge from the Central Control Station during a training exercise onboard HMAS Newcastle.

Leading Seaman Marine Technician Romney Reyes relays vital information to the bridge from the Central Control Station during a training exercise onboard HMAS Newcastle.

At sea, MT sailors hold watches in the Central Control Station (CCS) and in the engine spaces, by day and night, to monitor the ship’s ME systems and make sure the vessel has sufficient power and propulsion to carry out its objectives.

Within each watch there’s a hierarchy of responsibility which sailors climb as they gain new operator qualifications. 

The levels of responsibility in the MT career continuum include Marine Systems Technicians (MST), who monitor the ship’s auxiliary equipment and power functions from inside the engine spaces, Electronic Plant Control Console Operators (EPCC), who monitor high power generation, Marine Systems Controllers (MSC), who serve as the second in charge of the watch, and Marine Systems Managers (MSM), who manage the ship’s ME systems on behalf of the Marine Engineering Officer.

Career progression in the ME department requires MT sailors to pass written and practical exams.

CPOMT Cocks said her sailors needed to gain both practical experience and theoretical knowledge in order to prove their competence at each level. 

She said the department’s mentoring scheme had been instrumental in helping its junior sailors to reach the standard.

“One example of the department’s dedication to training has been the implementation of an EPCC Master Class. 

“The class has really helped the sailors to improve their knowledge and skills, so we have slowly expanded it to include training for switchboard operation and ship’s fitted systems, such as air conditioning and refrigeration.” 

CPOMT Cocks said the increased focus on training and career progression was having a positive effect on everyone in the department.

“This passion for training has led to a large number of watch keeping qualifications being accomplished during the first half of our deployment, which means more of our sailors can share the load of the operational watch keeping routine.

“This has eased the burden of day-in, day-out watch keeping, which has brought the ME department closer as a team.” 

As well as conducting regular master classes, Damage Control Exercises and table top discussions, Newcastle’s ME Command Team has planned and executed Engineering Casualty Control Drills (ECCD) every day at sea since arriving in the MEAO.

“The practical training evolutions that we have conducted will give our MTs the experience and confidence to deal with real, unplanned incidents at sea,” CPOMT Cocks said. 

“The energy we are putting into the training of our people is well worth the effort. 

“The more that we can get individual members to a level where they demonstrate professional technical knowledge and competence, the easier the job becomes for everyone in the department.” 

Chief Petty Officer Marine Technician Julie Cox works in the Auxilliary Machine Room 2 onboard HMAS Newcastle in the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO).

Chief Petty Officer Marine Technician Julie Cox works in the Auxilliary Machine Room 2 onboard HMAS Newcastle in the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO).

Fifteen personnel out of 40 in Newcastle’s Marine Engineering department have gained new qualifications since the ship arrived in the MEAO on May 27.

“That’s nearly half our people and we’re only at the half way mark of our deployment. That’s pretty impressive considering 60 per cent of the department has never been on an operational deployment before.

“We will keep striving for professional development until we return to Sydney in October, and beyond.”

Newcastle is deployed to the MEAO as part of Operation SLIPPER - the Australian Defence Force contribution to the international campaign against terrorism, counter smuggling and counter piracy in the Gulf of Aden, and enhancing regional maritime security and engagement.

Her deployment is the 55th rotation of an Australian warship to the MEAO since 1990.

Members of HMAS Newcastle's Engineering Repair Base team plot a major Damage Control Exercise (DCX) in the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO) on a state board.

Members of HMAS Newcastle's Engineering Repair Base team plot a major Damage Control Exercise (DCX) in the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO) on a state board.