HMAS Melbourne's boarding party off to flying start

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Topic(s): Operation SLIPPER, HMAS Melbourne (F05)

SBLT Ivanka Zeko deploys via fast rope after LSET Matt Harper, from the embarked S-70B Seahawk, Dominator, onto the flight deck of HMAS Melbourne, while on patrol in the Middle East Area of Operations. (photo: ABIS Jayson Tufrey)
SBLT Ivanka Zeko deploys via fast rope after LSET Matt Harper, from the embarked S-70B Seahawk, Dominator, onto the flight deck of HMAS Melbourne, while on patrol in the Middle East Area of Operations.

HMAS Melbourne is well prepared for the job ahead after practising a fast rope insertion into the ship from an aircraft.

The boarding party conducted the evolutions from 15 metres above a pitching flight deck, dressed in full boarding party kit consisting of ballistic vest, boarding party life jacket, webbing complete with 9mm pistol and helmet.

Aircraft cabin supervisor, Leading Seaman Aircrewman, Bradley Sharman, said he is responsible for the overall safety of the team inside the aircraft and up to the moment of egress.

“I control the dispersal of the jumpers. I signal to them that it is their turn to go,” he said.

“I also communicate with the pilot, in order to make adjustments of the aircraft in altitude and position above the target point.”

Fast ropers undertake an intensive two day course at HMAS Cerberus in Westernport Bay, Victoria. Safety aspects are paramount and enforced before candidates even get to feel the rope in their hands.

Students must first make a static jump from a tower at a relatively low height and then as their confidence increases so does the height.

They also initially jump ‘cleanskin’ in working dress and helmet only, and then add more items of equipment that they would be expected to carry during a boarding insertion, such as ballistic vest, life jackets and webbing.

Finally they must demonstrate the ability to ‘lock off’ in which they arrest their motion on the rope by tightening their hand grip and maintaining this attitude for a specified time.

All this must be accomplished to qualify for a live jump from a helicopter.

Chief Petty Officer Clearance Diver, Drew Mitchell, was overall supervisor for the evolution and oversees fast rope continuation training for boarding party members onboard Melbourne during their current deployment.

He said there are many reasons why a fast rope insertion is preferable to Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boat (RHIB) boarding.

“Weather conditions may not be favourable to launch a RHIB or the tactical situation may dictate insertion by aircraft,” CPOCD Mitchell said.

“The range of the vessel to be boarded may also be conducive to a more expedient mode of insertion.

“Also physical size of the vessel of interest may be prohibitive to interception by RHIB.

“The boarding party members are demonstrating very good skills and have obviously retained all they learnt on course.

“Continuation training is going very well and I anticipate doing as many jumps as we can in accordance with our training plan, as well as what the flying program will allow.”

HMAS Melbourne is currently on station in the Middle East Area of operations undertaking maritime security patrols as a part of Operation SLIPPER, Australia's Defence Force contribution to the International Coalition Against Terrorism.

Imagery is available on the Royal Australian Navy Media Library at http://images.navy.gov.au/S20131587.

POA Damien Cox observes ABMT Hayden Skews as he deploys via fast rope, from the embarked S-70 B Seahawk, Dominator, onto the flight deck of HMAS Melbourne in the Middle East Area of Operations.

POA Damien Cox observes ABMT Hayden Skews as he deploys via fast rope, from the embarked S-70 B Seahawk, Dominator, onto the flight deck of HMAS Melbourne in the Middle East Area of Operations.