New Navy experience in New Caledonia

This article has photo gallery Published on LCDR Ben Sweetenham (author)

Location(s): Noumea, New Caledonia

Topic(s): HMAS Farncomb (S74)

Lieutenant Commander Ben Sweetenham and Leading Seaman Acoustic Warfare Analyst Submariner Stevie-Jean Morrison visit a school in Noumea. (photo: )
Lieutenant Commander Ben Sweetenham and Leading Seaman Acoustic Warfare Analyst Submariner Stevie-Jean Morrison visit a school in Noumea.

HMAS Farncomb recently completed a highly successful port visit to Noumea, New Caledonia, in a milestone first for a Collins Class submarine.

It was the first time in thirty years an Australian submarine had visited the French Territory.

The busy port visit included a visit from Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Marise Payne, a visit from Deputy Chief of Navy, Rear Admiral Mark Hammond, tours for a number of diplomats and local dignitaries and multiple engagements with the Forces Armées de Nouvelle-Calédonie (French Armed Forces, New Caledonia – also known as FANC).

The purpose of Farncomb’s visit was to further strengthen diplomatic and military relations with the people of New Caledonia, French authorities and the FANC.

Deputy Chief of Navy, Rear Admiral Mark Hammond, a former Commanding Officer of Farncomb, highlighted the importance of the close relationship between the two nations.

“Like Australia, France is an important citizen in the Indo-Pacific, through its territories including New Caledonia and French Polynesia, with a shared interest in the stability and security of the region,” Rear Admiral Hammond said.

“This visit follows a successful participation in the French Navy-led Exercise LA PEROUSE in the Indian Ocean, during which the frigate HMAS Toowoomba and submarine HMAS Collins integrated with the Charles de Gaulle carrier task group.

“Enhancing interoperability with the French Navy, particularly in the space of submarine operations, will be a key focus over the coming years as we move towards the introduction of twelve Attack class submarines, which will be constructed in Australia following the recent signing of a Strategic Partnering Agreement with France,” he said.

Farncomb was greeted in Noumea with warm and sunny weather along with a lot of interest from locals, all keen to get a glimpse at the submarine arriving in port.

The crew were kept busy throughout the port visit with members attending Baudoux College where they talked with students about their experiences as Australian sailors and submariners.

The crew also attended a reception at the Australian Consulate, conducted daily submarine tours for dignitaries, veteran groups and members of the New Caledonian Armed Forces (FANC), and ended the visit with a friendly volleyball match against their hosts.

Enjoying some respite, the crew of Farncomb took time out to relax and partake in cultural exchanges, tasting local cuisine and exploring the island’s hiking trails, beaches and snorkelling spots. Leading Seaman Electronic Warfare Submariner Leigh Pope took the opportunity to compete in the ‘Trail de I’impossible’ - a local trail race with competitors from the French military forces.

The Commanding Officer of HMAS Farncomb, Commander Gary Lawton hosted a number of guests at a reception on the first night in port, including the Deputy Chief of Navy, the French High Commissioner of New Caledonia, Monsieur Thierry Lataste, and General Thierry Marchand (Commander Regional Forces).

Rear Admiral Hammond took time out of his busy schedule to have breakfast with the crew while the submarine was at anchor off Noumea, reminiscing on his time as Commanding Officer of the boat and taking questions from the officers and sailors onboard.

His visit was greatly appreciated by the Farncomb team, who discussed a number of issues ranging from retention efforts being implemented within the Royal Australian Navy to the strategic importance of the South-West Pacific, which underpinned the reasons for the highly anticipated port visit.

Commander Lawton said the visit was highly successful in achieving its purpose.

"The people of New Caledonian warmly welcomed us to their beautiful island, which is strategically placed in the South West Pacific.

"We've made some great friendships and memories during our time here, both with the FANC and the local community in Noumea," he said. 

Farncomb will now return to Australia to participate in Exercise TALISMAN SABRE 2019.