HMAS Ballarat has sailed into her home port of Fleet Base West in Rockingham, Western Australia, to a large gathering of family and friends after completing a three month deployment to South East Asia and; participating in Exercise TALISMAN SABER off the Australian coast.
The deployment, which began in early April, was part of the Australian Government’s efforts to promote regional stability and improve interoperability between regional partners and included port visits to Zhanjiang, Singapore, Sattahip, Bangkok, Da Nang and Kota Kinabalu.
Ballarat’s Commanding Officer, Commander Paul Johnson said that the deployment facilitated great opportunities to enhance the Royal Australian Navy’s interoperability with regional partners, to further develop trust and friendship between navies and to showcase the Royal Australian Navy’s professionalism to the region.
“Our involvement in important regional exercises such as BERSAMA SHIELD and AUSTHAI are fundamental to our strong and ongoing defence relationships with our partners in the region,” Commander Johnson said.
“The great work by my team in Ballarat has allowed us to conduct several successful port visits and to execute a number of complex exercises with a wide range of countries and ultimately achieved the goal of improving interoperability with regional partners and enhancing the reputation of the Royal Australian Navy,” he said.
The visits provided an opportunity for the officers and crew of Ballarat to host and participate in a variety of events such as official receptions, cross-decks, sporting competitions, outings to tourist locations and local school visits.
The port visits also allowed for the conduct of planning meetings associated with Ballarat’s participation in bilateral and multilateral exercises. These included the primary Five Powers Defence Arrangement Exercise BERSAMA SHIELD (which consisted of air and maritime forces from Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom) and the bilateral AUSTHAI exercise held in the Gulf of Thailand between Australia and the Royal Thai Navy.
In between the busy port visit schedule, Ballarat took every opportunity to conduct close quarters transits with regional partners, which included one with the United States Navy, Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force and Royal Canadian Navy in the South China Sea, as well as in company time with the Royal Thai Navy, People’s Liberation Army-Navy, Royal Malaysian Navy and Vietnam’s Peoples Navy.
In the four months away, Ballarat traveled 18,499 nautical miles, her embarked MH-60R helicopter flew more than 195 hours and the Maritime Logistics department served up more than 68,000 meals.
Ballarat’s Maritime Logistics Officer, Lieutenant Commander Kirstie Butcher said that the deployment posed several logistics challenges which included negotiating language barriers with host nations.
“My team worked tirelessly to ensure that Ballarat’s logistics requirements were met and official functions were high-quality events that presented a professional and welcoming atmosphere in support of Ballarat’s mission of enhancing the reputation of the Royal Australian Navy,” Lieutenant Commander Butcher said.
For many of Ballarat’s ships company, it was their first deployment to South East Asia, with the majority taking the opportunity to visit local tourist attractions and make the most of the unique cultural experiences on offer in each port.
For Chief Petty Officer Medical Donny Miller the highlight of the deployment was visiting the Chinese Military Hospital in Zhanjiang.
“To see the intersection of eastern and western medicine was very interesting for me professionally and we saw techniques, such as acupuncture and cupping, being practiced,” Chief Petty Officer Miller said.
Ballarat’s deployment to South East Asia was excellent preparation for her involvement in the biennial high-end warfare exercise TALISMAN SABER 2017, that trains Australian and US forces to plan and conduct combined task force operations and to improve combat readiness and interoperability.