HMAS Choules has delivered a combined force of 150 soldiers and marines from Australia and Tonga to New Zealand as part of Exercise SOUTHERN KATIPO.
Her responsiveness was on show when she arrived alongside at Picton in the South Island only a week after supporting the people of Vanuatu as part of the evacuation of Ambae Island under threat of a volcanic eruption.
As part of the exercise scenario, Choules was approached by role-playing protestors in small boats during her transit through the Marlborough Sounds to the wharf at Picton, negotiating the arrival assisted by HMNZS Wellington and a Kiwi Navy Seasprite helicopter.
Soldiers from the New Zealand Army provided security detail on the wharf so that Choules could safely come alongside and land six Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicles, a number of Unimog trucks and G-Wagons, as well as troops from both the Australian Army’s 1st Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment, and the Royal Tongan Marines.
Commanding Officer Choules, Commander Dave Graham said the exercise provided the ship’s company with another good opportunity to test their interoperability with Australia’s neighbours in the south-west Pacific.
“The most important thing here is that we are standing shoulder to shoulder with our mates in this region and demonstrating that we can all work together to provide a response,” Commander Graham said.
“This is a critical capability in this part of the world as shown by recent events.”
Commander Graham said it was only three and a half weeks ago Choules was in Townsville, expecting to sail to New Zealand when she was redirected to assist in Vanuatu.
“We were re-roled in a matter of days and able to go to Vanuatu and deliver an effect there that helped more than two-thousand people,” he said.
“Then we were able to proceed directly to New Zealand for this exercise.
“That’s a pretty amazing demonstration of the versatility provided by this capability.”
The troops landed ashore by Choules joined a 13-nation coalition force in the field where the exercise scenario centres on an international assistance mission
The biennial exercise is the largest coalition and joint exercise conducted by the New Zealand Defence Force.