As Navy commissions new Major Fleet Units, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle squadrons and construction begins on the new Offshore Patrol Vessels, the fleet of boats in Australia’s northern most approaches remains constantly on watch.
The crews of these Armidale class Patrol Boats (ACPBs) - sleek 56.8m machines capable of steaming at more than 25 knots - maintain an essential array of defence and border protection functions and strong and enduring relationships with our close neighbours.
Captain Patrol Boats Captain Jason Hunter says the fleet of ACPBs, along with two Navy crewed Cape class patrol boats (CCPB), are key enablers in achieving their mission on Operation RESOLUTE.
“Working with several external agencies, Defence has a lead role in securing Australia’s borders, combatting maritime people-smuggling and saving lives at sea,” Captain Hunter says.
“Operation RESOLUTE is integral to Sovereign Borders, covering about 10 per cent of the world’s surface - up to 200nm from the Australian mainland and offshore territories.
“Navy’s people and patrol boats are out there every day of the year, protecting Australia and its interests in the maritime domain, engaging with our regional neighbours and supporting Plan Pelorus.”
The tight-knit crew of about 25 personnel administer the operation of all of the boat’s functions, including arrival and departure from ports, pilotage in and out of harbours, steaming at speed, launching and recovering the embarked rigid hull inflatable boats and operating and maintaining the ship’s weapons systems. With a variety of roles comes a diverse ships’ company armed with the skills and resilience to get the job done.
CPOMT Mark ‘Dutchy’ Verhoeven is the senior marine technician aboard HMAS Broome.
“I’m responsible for all platforms, machinery, and hull – we keep the ship running,” CPO Verhoeven says.
“We are constantly monitoring machinery spaces at the source and remotely via cameras and the Marine Link system.”
The CPOMT and MT department perform their role both at sea and alongside.
“Our core job on patrol boats is to be available for border protection, regional engagement and support to the Task Group and we need to ensure we are in the best possible machinery and material state to meet those requirements - often at short notice,” CPO Verhoeven says.
The boatswain’s mates aboard ACPBs carry out the hands-on duties, including line-handling and weapons systems, but it doesn’t end there.
“I’m the Nav Yeoman aboard HMAS Broome,” ABBM Sam Nona says. “I assist the Navigator with updating charts and other duties, as well as looking after weapons, including planned maintenance and cleaning.
“Overall, boatswains ensure that the boat and its ship’s company can leave safely, get alongside safely and that the weapons are in good working order.”
While maintenance of small arms and the boat’s two 12.7mm machine guns is the boatswains’ part of the ship, it is the electronics technician who maintains the 25mm M242 Bushmaster autocannon mounted on the Rafael Typhoon stabilised mount system.
ABET Jimmy Savage says life on ACPBs provides a crossover into other parts of the ship.
“I carry out duties in conjunction with the stokers (MTs), which takes me out of my primary role and I get to learn more about engines,” he says. “This includes holding watches on the Marine Link system.
“I also look after navigational aid equipment including Navigational Data System, Radar, GPS, echo sounder and gyros and provide back-ups if any systems fail - this helps to ensure safe passage.”
Safe passage is a core duty of the boat’s Navigation Officer. LEUT Christopher Standen mans the bridge in this role aboard Broome.
“I’m responsible for maintaining navigational safety of the ship, as well as the navigational administration for us to sail,” Lieutenant Standen says.
“Additionally, I’m the Operations Officer and conduct the boat’s longterm and short-term planning.
“Protecting Australia’s borders is just part of the job in an ACPB.
“I find it more rewarding to see my effect on the boat, including the creation of a positive culture and getting the boat to do what is required.”
With frequent and high-tempo stints at sea, providing food for the crew is an essential role and means more than just keeping people fed.
“It’s all about morale,” says Broome’s chef, ABML-C Adam Grant.
“Providing people with a good meal to look forward to, as well as ‘mornos’ and ‘arvos’, keeps them full and happy.”
ACPBs and CCPBs are home-ported in Northern Australia at HMAS Coonawarra and HMAS Cairns.
Construction of Navy’s 12 new Offshore Patrol Vessels began on November 15. The OPVs will be known as the Arafura class, with the first vessel to be commissioned HMAS Arafura when she enters service in 2022.