Chief of Navy decision relating to professional conduct in the inadvertent incursion into Indonesian territorial waters

Published on Department of Defence Media Release (author)

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In February this year the Customs and Border Protection Service and Defence released a joint review in relation to the positioning of vessels engaged in Operation SOVEREIGN BORDERS.

This review focused on the circumstances surrounding the inadvertent incursion into Indonesian territorial waters by Customs and Navy vessels.

One of the joint review's recommendations was that the Chief of Navy considers each incursion by Royal Australian Navy (RAN) vessels into Indonesian waters during Operation SOVEREIGN BORDERS, with regard to any individual lapses in professional conduct. The Commanding Officer of an RAN ship is responsible and accountable for the safe navigation of the ship at all times.

The Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, has concluded his considerations into these issues and made a number of decisions in relation to the seven RAN ship Commanding Officers involved noting that more than one ship was involved in each incursion.

In each instance of an incursion there was clear operational direction not to proceed within 12 nautical miles from the Indonesian archipelagic baseline. The Chief of Navy carefully considered the circumstances of the positioning of each ship. Each Commanding Officer was able to put their perspectives surrounding these incidents directly to the Chief.

The Chief of Navy accepts that none of the Commanding Officers involved deliberately contravened orders not to enter Indonesian territorial waters.

Notwithstanding, there were, in the Chief of Navy’s view, lapses in professional conduct that required action to be taken.

As a result the Chief of Navy will remove one Commanding Officer from his command and another will be administratively sanctioned. The remaining Commanding Officers will be formally or informally counselled.

Personal accountability is a key feature of Navy’s cultural change program and command accountability is a particularly important issue given the responsibilities that Commanding Officers hold.

Vice Admiral Griggs said “each of the Commanding Officers conducted these activities with the best of intent; however, I expect nothing but the highest standards of those in command. These actions are not punitive in nature but are aimed solely at upholding the professional standards that the Royal Australian Navy is renowned for and that are necessary for it to undertake its mission.

“I think it is a healthy sign for Navy’s leadership that all of the Commanding Officers involved have willingly accepted accountability for their own actions and that of their ship or ships under their control,” Vice Admiral Griggs added.

The Privacy Act limits the amount of specific information on the outcome of the individual cases that can be disclosed. As a result no further information in relation to these considerations will be provided.

The media are requested to respect the privacy of the officers involved.

Good progress is being made to implement the Joint Review’s other recommendations. This includes ongoing professional conduct investigations in relation to actions of other Australian Defence Force and Customs and Border Protection members involved in the inadvertent breaches. Appropriate information will be released as available.