As the sun slipped below the horizon, the Australian White Ensign was lowered for the final time on Navy’s three remaining Landing Craft Heavy (LCH).
Past and present crew from HMA Ships Brunei, Labuan and Tarakan watched from the HMAS Cairns quarterdeck as the ships were decommissioned after almost forty years of service.
The Assistant Minister for Defence represented the Prime Minister and was joined by the Member for Leichhardt. Commander Australian Fleet, Rear Admiral Stuart Mayer, Head Navy Capability, Rear Admiral Mark Campbell, and the Secretary of the Papua New Guinea Department of Defence, Mr John Porti also attended.
In his address, Commanding Officer HMAS Brunei, Lieutenant Commander Matthew Richardson said the three Balikpapan class vessels had a rich past.
“These ships have travelled over one and a half million miles between them, which is quite a bit, at 10 knots flat out. Over the years 100 Commanding Officers and nearly 4,000 crew members have served in them.
“Having commissioned way back in 1972, Brunei, Labuan and Tarakan are the number one, number two and number three longest serving ships in the history of the Royal Australian Navy. The ships have consistently served Australia around our waters and across the region, usually attending to the less glamorous but often the most appreciated operations, from cyclone relief, to regional assistance as well as military and border protection operations,” Lieutenant Commander Richardson said.
“The ships have had long and distinguished careers, but tonight, I’m most proud of the crews. It takes a special kind of sailor to work in these platforms, sometimes for several years, where there are no freeloaders allowed and everyone is expected to help everyone else.
“Despite bad backs, poor hearing, cramped conditions and a complete lack of sleep from that crazy pounding that only an LCH sailor understands, the sailor remains the most resilient most adaptable sailor I have ever worked with,” Lieutenant Commander Richardson said.
Rear Admiral Mayer also paid tribute to the personnel who had served in the landing craft.
“You are the ones that have, for the past forty years, given practical expression to amphibious warfare by contributing to ADF operations in our region including the Solomon Islands, Bougainville and East Timor; these could not have been successful without the mighty LCH and that dedicated crews that serve in the. When a job seemed too hard to be done, the ‘H’s’ found a way,” Rear Admiral Mayer said.
“Whether it was disaster relief, delivery of humanitarian assistance, supporting dive teams, survey teams or lifting loads to remote locations the H’s found a way. From the Solomon to Suai, from Kimberley to Norfolk Island, always the H’s found a way.”
“You are the ones that have been the heart and soul of the Australian Defence Force’s amphibious capability. It is a record of service for which I am grateful. It is a record of service of which you should be very proud,” Rear Admiral Mayer said.
“The decommissioning of Brunei, Labuan and Tarakan marks the end of a chapter in the Royal Australian Navy’s history. While the ships will decommission, the crews will not. The skills and traditions, and I have no doubt the same sense of adventure will continue to be present in NUSHIP’s Canberra, Adelaide and the LHD Landing Craft that support them. These new ships may be bigger, but they are just metal without the crews that bring them to life.”
“As we say goodbye to the LCH after four decades of service, I would like to thank not just the crews, but the engineers and logisticians who have sustained them,” Rear Admiral Mayer said.
Following the decommissioning, Labuan will be gifted to the Papua New Guinea Defence Force Maritime Operations Element to strengthen their sealift capability. A combined Australian Navy and Papua New Guinea crew will sail the vessel to its new home.
The personnel posted to the craft will take on other roles across the fleet as Navy prepares for the introduction of the LHD and its embarked landing craft.
Additional imagery is also available at: http://images.navy.gov.au/S20143526.