Sailor continues community mindset

Published on LEUT Andrew Ragless (author), LSIS James Whittle (photographer)

Location(s): Kaikoura, New Zealand

Topic(s): Operations, HMAS Darwin (F04)

Able Seaman Communication Information Systems Robert Griffiths at the flag bin on board HMAS Darwin. (photo: LSIS James Whittle)
Able Seaman Communication Information Systems Robert Griffiths at the flag bin on board HMAS Darwin.

Formerly a store manager of a fast food restaurant, 29-year old Able Seaman Communication and Information Systems Robert Griffiths is well versed in community relations.

Involved in Ronald McDonald House charities, he said working with staff and families to help seriously ill children was one of his most rewarding experiences. The graduate of Strathmore Secondary College, joined the Royal Australian Navy in 2014 in pursuit of a new adventure.

Last November, Able Seaman Griffiths was helping the community in a slightly different way.

In his Navy role he is now responsible for his ship’s communication services, including UHF, HF and VHF radios, satellite communications, data networks and the ship’s local are network.

As a member of HMAS Darwin’s ship’s company, Able Seaman Griffiths took part in disaster relief operations in New Zealand, following a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck the South Island on 14 November.

The earthquake severed State Highway 1 and isolated the township of Kaikoura on the east coast.

Darwin had already sailed from Australia’s east coast to participate in the Royal New Zealand Navy’s 75th Anniversary International Naval Review.

“We were in the Hauraiki Gulf west of Auckland when we got the call,” Able Seaman Griffiths said.

“Being one of the fastest frigates in the task group we took off for Kaikoura without a moment to lose.”

In the space of 36 hours, Darwin evacuated more than 60 civilians by sea boat to HMNZS Canterbury and delivered approximately 13,500 kilograms of food, water and emergency supplies by helicopter.

Darwin sent teams of approximately 30 sailors ashore each day for a wide variety of repair work, clean up duties and welfare visits to residents in outlying areas.

“I was part of the first team who went ashore for community assistance,” Able Seaman Griffiths said.

“We flew over in a Royal Canadian Navy helicopter and the first task given to us was to help clean up the local primary school.

“I was in a team with four American sailors, two Canadians, a Kiwi and one other Australian.

“It was my first exposure to working side by side with other navies besides manoeuvres at sea, and the camaraderie was excellent.”

He was also a ‘runner’ between two emergency coordination centres, provided welfare information and responded to all manner of calls for assistance from local residents.

“I recall being stopped by community members as we walked to one of our destinations,” he said.

“They were thrilled and honoured to receive help from foreign navies.

“In retrospect it was a small gesture of help, but it allowed the residents to stand back up on their own two feet.”

The disaster relief mission capped off a busy year for Able Seaman Griffiths, who on 30 December 2015 left Australian shores for a seven month deployment to the Middle East.

The journey included port visits to Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Bahrain, Oman, United Arab Emirates, and the Seychelles, and also participated in the International Fleet Review in Vishakhapatnam, India.

In February, Darwin seized a large weapons cache following the boarding of a fishing vessel in the north Indian Ocean.

The weapons, including nearly 2,000 AK-47 assault rifles and 100 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, were seized under UN sanctions which authorise interdiction on the high seas of illicit weapons destined for Somalia.

Soon after in May, Darwin’s boarding party seized almost one tonne of heroin during three vessel interceptions off the east coast of Africa.

The seizure denied an estimated AUD $800 million worth of narcotics, ordinarily used to fund terrorist activities in the region.

Able Seaman Griffiths said the large drug and weapon interdictions were a big highlight.

“Having such huge success early on in our deployment, and also working alongside the French aircraft carrier Charles De Gaule, was excellent,” he said.

“Sitting 400 yards off her port side watching her launch aircraft was something I’ll never forget.”

HMAS Darwin returned from her seventh deployment to the Middle East in July.

It was the 62nd rotation of a Royal Australian Navy vessel, contributing to counter piracy and counter-terrorism operations in the region since 1990.