A Navy task group departed from their Fleet Base East homeport early on New Year’s Day, in support of multi-agency efforts to provide assistance to communities affected by bushfires on the Australian east coast.
Consisting of the Landing Ship Dock HMAS Choules and the multi-role aviation training vessel MV Sycamore, the Task Group also includes an MRH-90 Taipan Maritime Support Helicopter from 808 Squadron and a specialised Aero Medical Evacuation (AME) capability from the Maritime Operational Health Unit.
In addition to the Navy personnel, the task group also includes Army personnel as well as Defence Contractors who operate Sycamore.
Choules’ Commanding Officer, Commander Scott Houlihan, noted the significant effort for many to re-join the ships at short notice for the response.
“As it is with all Australians, the New Year period is an important time for Defence personnel to spend time with their families and achieve some respite between two busy years,” Commander Houlihan said.
“When the call came out in the late afternoon of New Year’s Eve, the ships’ companies gladly stepped up to the challenge, and both ships were underway less than 17 hours later.
“People made their way back to Fleet Base East promptly from Western Australia, north Queensland, Tasmania, and everywhere in between, and I am proud of their commitment to their Navy and to serving the people of Australia in a time of need.”
With the challenge of getting the ships underway achieved, the focus turned to the additional capabilities that might be required to support the people in the affected communities on the Victorian and southern NSW coastline.
With thousands of Victorians being isolated for several days, it was identified that a specialised AME capability might be able to enhance Choules’ organic medical capability, so a team of permanent and reserve Defence medical personnel was brought together and transferred to the ship by helicopter.
“Situations like this provide an opportunity for Defence to demonstrate the diversity and flexibility of our capabilities, and are built upon the continuous contingency planning efforts that occur across the enterprise,” Commander Houlihan said.
Choules has also embarked an Army Amphibious Beach Team, which will be able to assess landing sites for possible boat operations utilising the range of vessels embarked.
The two ships arrived in the affected areas of Victoria this morning morning, with the first priority being to engage with the local community leaders and the State emergency authorities to determine how the task group will be able to best support other agencies in the relief efforts.
Operation BUSHFIRE ASSIST 19-20 imagery is available on the Defence Image Gallery: