The Royal Australian Navy has held a moving commemorative service onboard HMAS Choules for over 200 survivors and families of the 82 brave souls who lost their lives when HMAS Voyager (II) and HMAS Melbourne (II) tragically collided off Jervis Bay on 10 February 1964.
Choules embarked the guests from HMAS Creswell in Jervis Bay and took them to the waters off Point Perpendicular which became the resting place of Voyager.
The guests, many arm-in-arm, gathered on the ship’s flight deck for a formal ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of the loss.
Representatives from the Voyager Survivors Association, family members and the Royal Australian Navy’s Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, laid wreaths at the foot of Voyager and Melbourne life rings, proudly placed by the side of the Australian White Ensign. Guests also had the opportunity to throw sprigs of rosemary overboard Choules in remembrance of their lost loved ones.
In his speech to attendees, Vice Admiral Griggs said he was very keen that Navy make the commemoration a special one that rightfully acknowledges the loss, the pain, the courage and the remarkable nature of the human spirit shown on that awful night, and every day of the last 50 years.
“We are here to honour and remember all of those who served in these two fine ships, and in particular those who lost their lives serving their country. They were all good people; 67 sailors, 14 officers, and a good civilian member of the Navy.
“When they found themselves in the midst of tragedy, the actions of the crews of Melbourne and Voyager spoke volumes about their courage and skill. Selfless courage was displayed by many onboard the two ships and also in other parts of the Navy such as the sea-air rescue vessels Air Nymph and Air Sprite and aircraft from Nowra.
“I can only imagine the struggle that many of these men waged and some continue to wage over what happened that night.
“I want to pay tribute to their partners and loved ones who have endured so much these last 50 years in giving them loving support even when it was not easy.
“I also wish to acknowledge the grief and suffering of the families and friends of those lost. Each person’s experience is unique and for each person who dies there are dozens of family and friends who have been affected, said Vice Admiral Ray Griggs.
The Australian Chief of Navy also reflected on the important organisational lessons that the modern day Navy continues to ensure are learnt.
“Navy’s reason for being is to fight and win at sea - we do so in the service of the nation and in doing so we must take carefully considered risks to achieve military advantage. This must, and does, extend to training.
“The key for me however is that we do not take risk without good reason, without preparing people and equipment for them, without knowing why we are taking risk and for what gain we seek.
Chief of Navy reinforced one of the key lessons Navy has learnt overtime and since Voyager is the focus and priority placed on families.
“Our understanding of the psychological impacts of incidents is much more sophisticated than it was then; we see this in our current approach to mental health issues across the Navy in the support we provide, the screening programs we have to alert us to problems and in the critical incident support we provide.
“We are not perfect but Voyager is one of those events which has helped us develop in that field,” said Vice Admiral Griggs.
In closing, Vice Admiral Griggs said the words Lest We Forget have compelling meaning to everyone present.
“One thing is fore sure, we must never forget.”
The service concluded with the playing of the Last Post and one minutes silence.
While onboard Choules, guests also spent time together meeting new people who have a connection to the Voyager accident or remembering old times with old shipmates over lunch.
For those who were unable to attend the sea ceremony onboard Choules, a ‘Beat to Quarters’ and Ceremonial Sunset will be held this evening at Creswell.
Imagery is available on the Royal Australian Navy Media Library at http://images.navy.gov.au/S20140111.
A copy of Chief of Navy's speech is available on the Navy website at http://www.navy.gov.au/media-room/publications/chief-navy-speeches.