Over the Christmas and Boxing Day period we remembered two significant and tragic events in history.
It has been 40 years since tropical cyclone, Cyclone Tracy, hit Australia on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. Under the auspices of Operation NAVY HELP DARWIN, the Royal Australian Navy quickly deployed to aid the top end city in the wake of the devastating cyclone.
Secondly, 26 December marked a decade since the ‘Boxing Day’ Tsunami tore through the Indonesian city of Banda Aceh in 2004, killing more than 250,000 people from 14 countries and displacing hundreds of thousands more.
The Royal Australian Navy was involved in the humanitarian aid and disaster relief missions of both these events. In 1974, during the month after Cyclone Tracy, the Navy embarked upon its largest peacetime disaster at that time, involving 13 ships, 11 aircraft and some 3,000 personnel.
Lieutenant Commander John Jacobi, was Executive Officer of HMAS Arrow in 1974 and saw first hand the effects of the cyclone.
“The power was incredible. My lasting memories of the morning after are the enormous destruction, the fact that no trees were left standing and the silence as there was no movement from humans or wild life.
“Sadly HMAS Arrow lost two crew members – Petty Officer Leslie Catton and Able Seaman Ian Rennie. We remember them,” he said.
In 2004, HMAS Kanimbla was the ship assigned to Operation SUMATRA ASSIST as part of the international efforts to assist recovery efforts post the Boxing Day Tsunami. Current Commanding Officer of HMAS Toowoomba, Commander Catherine Hayes, was the Operations Officer on board at the time and recalled that due to the time of year, her team was spread across Australia on Christmas leave.
“Kanimbla’s crew, along with two Sea King Helicopters from 817 Squadron were recalled to deploy from Sydney to join the humanitarian and disaster relief efforts. We embarked a full team of medical specialists and 1 Combat Engineering Regiment with their heavy engineering plant in Darwin before departing with every bunk full and every inch of the tank and flight deck occupied,” Commander Hayes said.
“We deployed off Aceh, Sumatra and supported the medical and engineering capability ashore, while the two Sea Kings delivered aid down the west coast of Sumatra.
“Our teams were exposed to the extremes of the disaster, witnessing both the total devastation and loss caused by the tsunami, while being welcomed by the extremely resilient and grateful local Indonesian population that they were there to assist. The mission was both heartbreaking and rewarding.”
HMAS Canberra, the first of the Navy’s Landing Helicopter Docks commissioned on 28 November last year, will provide contemporary humanitarian aid and disaster relief capability, as HMAS Kanimbla and many other ships have done before. Captain Jonathan Sadleir is proud to stand as the ship’s first Commanding Officer.
“These new LHDs will be the flagships of the future Navy. They will project a presence never previously undertaken, especially in the areas of humanitarian support and disaster relief,” he said.
“HMAS Canberra has a state of the art medical facility including two operating theatres, an eight bed Critical Care Unit, variety of wards, pathology and radiology services, x-ray, pharmacy and dental facilities,” he said.
Captain Sadleir states that the LHDs will be the core of a new and sophisticated air-land-sea capability for the Navy.
“We will have an enhanced ability to deploy and sustain large numbers of personnel around Australia and into the South Pacific region," he said.
“We hope we will not need to be called, but if we are, we will be ready. This capability will help the Navy contribute significantly to stability and security in the region and provide the best means to lend humanitarian aid and disaster relief, should it be required.”