HMAS Choules central to Operation RENDER SAFE 2014

Published on CAPT Chris Rickey (author), CPL Matthew Bickerton (photographer)

Location(s): Torokina, Bougainville Island

Topic(s): Operation RENDER SAFE

The Royal Australian Navy's Landing Ship Dock, HMAS Choules, is seen at anchor off the coast of Bougainville during Operation RENDER SAFE 14. (photo: CPL Matthew Bickerton)
The Royal Australian Navy's Landing Ship Dock, HMAS Choules, is seen at anchor off the coast of Bougainville during Operation RENDER SAFE 14.

At anchor two kilometres off the coast of Bougainville sits HMAS Choules, the Royal Australian Navy's Landing Ship Dock, a 180 metre long, 16,000 tonne vessel, currently providing significant life support to almost 450 Australian and international defence force personnel deployed on Operation RENDER SAFE 2014.
 
Sitting in the Captain's chair is Commander Ashley Papp, who maintains responsibility for both the ship's company and the embarked forces while onboard HMAS Choules.
 
"We are the perfect sea base for Operation RENDER SAFE," he said.
 
"We are the hub, the home, the hot showers and hot food for the embarked forces.
 
"The Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams face very tough working conditions on shore, in the jungles and HMAS Choules is the best asset to support them and the operation."

A Navy Clearance Dive team prepares to launch a Zodiac inflatable boat from HMAS Choules during Operation RENDER SAFE 14 in Torokina, Bougainville.

A Navy Clearance Dive team prepares to launch a Zodiac inflatable boat from HMAS Choules during Operation RENDER SAFE 14 in Torokina, Bougainville.


Where the ship really comes into its own is the availability of the well dock, which is basically a floating dock designed specifically for amphibious operations.
 
"We have baptised a lot of soldiers, sailors and airmen into how the well dock is utilised at sea during operations," Commander Papp said.
 
"The flexibility of HMAS Choules is one of her major assets, we are launching clearance divers and geo-spatial specialists through the side ramp and we are utilising the ship's well dock to launch the larger vessels, which is a first for us," he said.
 
From the ship's flight deck an Australian Army MRH-90 helicopter provides transportation and logistic support to the teams on the ground, another example of the tri-service nature of this operation.

Two Australian Army amphibious vehicles depart HMAS Choules and head towards Torokina, Bougainville, during Operation RENDER SAFE 14.

Two Australian Army amphibious vehicles depart HMAS Choules and head towards Torokina, Bougainville, during Operation RENDER SAFE 14.


"We are very much a joint and collaborative environment, HMAS Choules is very used to hosting Army and Air Force personnel as well as civilians," Commander Papp said.
 
"We are purpose-built and no other ship currently in the fleet can do what we do in that tri-service space, and we do it very well."
 
For the Commander of Joint Task Force 663, Captain Jay Bannister, Operation RENDER SAFE 2014 is not only providing assistance to the people of Bougainville but also an opportunity for the ADF to put its Amphibious Task Group (ATG) to the test in an operational environment.
 
"This is a really good amphibious experience for HMAS Choules, for my staff and great exposure for other Air Force and Army elements in the Joint Task Force as well," Captain Bannister said.
 
"This is what amphibious operations are about; it's tough getting from the ship onto the beach and into operations and then back again. It takes a lot of detailed planning and we are all learning a lot from this."
 

Pallets of rations and vehicles wait to be moved ashore into Torokina, Bougainville, from HMAS Choules, during Operation RENDER SAFE 14.

Pallets of rations and vehicles wait to be moved ashore into Torokina, Bougainville, from HMAS Choules, during Operation RENDER SAFE 14.


Operation RENDER SAFE is Australia’s enduring commitment to the removal of Explosive Remnants of War which continue to pose a potential danger to communities across the South West Pacific.
 
The focus of Operation RENDER SAFE 2014 is in the Torokina district of Bougainville where grounds, villages and community gardens remain contaminated by unexploded ordnance.
 
Torokina was the site of fighting between Japanese and Allied forces, and was an air base for the Allies during the Second World War.

Imagery is available on the Navy Image Library at http://images.navy.gov.au/S20141718.