The former HMAS Labuan has proven to be a popular attraction and dedicated workhorse in her new role as part of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force.
Labuan, a Balikapapan Class Landing Craft Heavy, decommissioned from the Royal Australian Navy in November 2014 before being gifted to the Papua New Guinea Defence Force as part of the Defence Cooperation Program.
In December 2014, the vessel was renamed and commissioned into the Papua New Guinea Defence Force as HMPNGS Lakekamu.
Australian troops were deployed to Papua New Guinea to fight the Japanese Imperial Forces during World War II in order to prevent them from advancing in the Pacific region. During this time the people of Papua New Guinea supported and aided the Australian troops.
One of the critical locations was the Lakekamu River within the Gulf Province of Papua New Guinea. This river and its people were of vital importance to the success of the Australian troops, which was used as a supply route during World War II to provide personnel, rations and ammunition to the Bulldog Track and on to the Kokoda Track.
These days, the Royal Australian Navy also provides a Commanding Officer and a Chief of the Boat to train and mentor the officers and sailors of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force – Maritime Operations Element, as part of this ongoing agreement through the Defence Cooperation Program.
Lieutenant Commander Brenton-James Glover, says the military relationship that formed 75 years ago between Australia and Papua New Guinea, continues to grow from strength to strength.
“The training we provide helps develop the Maritime Operations Element of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force to protect their countries maritime resources,” Lieutenant Commander Glover said.
“We also assist with the development and repair of military infrastructure, landing craft crew training and general governance.”
On 6 December 2017, Lakekamu conducted the first ever Freedom of Entry Ceremony in Papua New Guinea history and sailed the ship up the Lakekamu River with the Honourable Christopher Haiveta, Governor for Gulf Province, and Colonel Siale Diro, Papua New Guinea Defence Force Chief of Force Preparation, as the guests of honour.
Chief of the Boat, Chief Petty Officer Boatswain Steve Lambert said it was a very touching and special event to witness.
“Seeing the many traditional aspects of Papua New Guinea culture and being able to witness the pride of the Gulf Province population as they saw the vessel for the first time was a special moment to experience,” he said.
Over the last three years Lakekamu has not only fulfilled her role as a Training Ship, but also achieved and supported a number of other missions including freight deliveries, distribution of Defence assets throughout the region, support to the National Disaster Centre and Correctional Services, re-distribution of Australian Federal Police vehicles and boats from the Solomon Islands to Papua New Guinea, delivery of fuel up the Morehead River, participation in Exercise Croix Du Sud alongside other pacific nations.
She has also conducted engagement with local remote communities along the mainland coast and throughout Milne Bay and the New Guinea Islands.
Lakekamu’s continued role within the Maritime Operations Element of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force gives life to the former ships motto of ‘Fail Not’ and demonstrates the resilience of the 47-year-old vessel.