Perth's tale of two cities

This article has photo gallery Published on LCDR Rob Roscoe (author), ABIS Julianne Cropley (photographer)

Location(s): Sihanoukville, Cambodia, Sattahip, Thailand

Royal Thai Navy ship HTMS Bangpakong and HMAS Perth in company during their deployment to South East Asia. (photo: ABIS Julianne Cropley)
Royal Thai Navy ship HTMS Bangpakong and HMAS Perth in company during their deployment to South East Asia.

Before HMAS Perth joined Exercise TALISMAN SABRE, she conducted a successful deployment South East Asia including two port visits in quick succession to Sattahip, Thailand and Sihanoukville, Cambodia.

On arrival in Sattahip, Perth hosted an official reception, which was well attended by Royal Thai Navy personnel as well as staff from the Australian Embassy, Defence Attachés in Bangkok and local Thai-based expatriates.

Perth established a close rapport with HTMS Bangpakong, their host ship for the visit. Their hospitality was reciprocated by Perth, who organised a number of tours for the Thai ship’s crew and other Thai Navy personnel. On the sporting front, a close Futsal match (a version of five-a-side soccer) was won by Bangpakong, who also took the golfing honours.

The crew of Perth took some well earned rest with many visiting the nearby tourist resort of Pattaya. Perth enjoyed hosting chefs from the local Marriott Hotel who provided a Thai cooking Masterchef class in preparing an excellent traditional Thai lunch.

On sailing from Sattahip, Perth exercised at sea with HTMS Bangpakong which included a wide range of navigation and seamanship evolutions. A number of personnel also crossed decked and Bangpakong’s boarding party conducted a simulated boarding of Perth.

Lieutenant Tim Russell-Cook, Perth’s Boarding Officer, said the chance to observe how other navies conduct their seamanship was always educational.

“It is always good to witness another navy’s procedures and techniques and show your own methods in return," he said.

"That way we continually learn, improve and verify our routines.

“I know both ships’ boarding teams learned a lot from cooperating together.”

For many onboard, the highlight of the deployment was the visit to Sihanoukville, Cambodia. The first Royal Australian Navy warship to visit Cambodia in four years, Perth was welcomed on arrival by the Naval Base Commander, Rear Admiral Mey Dina.

Perth was honoured to host the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Chief of Navy, Admiral Tea Vinh, and the local Sihanoukville Governor, Mr Chhit Sokhon, during an official reception, which was also well attended by a large group of Royal Cambodian Navy officers and many Defence Attachés from nations across the Asia-Pacific region.

During the visit, Perth made a strong connections with their hosts, providing a number of ship tours and delivering training in a range of specialist areas, such as navigation, damage control/fire fighting, electrical engineering and ship-to-shore communications.

On the sporting field, Perth’s soccer team went down 5-4 in a well contested game against the Cambodian Navy and again Perth lost convincingly in the volleyball, which is not surprising given that it is one of Cambodia’s national sports.

Afterwards, both teams enjoyed an Aussie-style BBQ which was organised by the hosts and a fitting end to the day.

Easily the most rewarding and enriching experience for some of the crew was the time spent assisting the M’Lop Tapang children’s charity project. The charity is a very well respected local non-profit organisation that works with the street children and families of Sihanoukville to provide shelter, medical care, education, training, counselling, family support and child protection.

Approximately forty children and M’Lop Tapang staff were hosted onboard Perth. The visit included a tour through the  machinery spaces, as well as visits to the forecastle, bridge and upperdecks, where the children were given hands on demonstrations of the ship’s signalling projectors, flags and ‘big eyes’ binoculars.

Refreshments were a definite highlight of their time onboard, with the children treated to ice cream and biscuits in the Junior Sailors' Café, before leaving with gift bags of Navy souvenirs.  

“It was remarkable to witness the enthusiasm of the children considering the adversity they must face on a daily basis.

"They were really impressed with the ship and asked so many questions,” said Lieutenant James Ferrari, a volunteer guide for the tour.

Two further groups of Perth volunteers visited M’Lop Tapang projects in Sihanoukville; a large primary school and a newly constructed Baby and Child Day Care Centre.

At the primary school, Petty Officer Physical Trainer Steven Adams, together with twenty five members of the ship’s company, ran an enjoyable afternoon of sport and games with the children. The team games included soccer, tunnel ball, basketball and relays, which promoted interaction between Perth sailors and the children. The addition of Navy AFL balls was a novelty, with the children initially perplexed by the unusual bounce of the oval ball, but that was soon overcome with displays of excellent hand-eye coordination.

“This has been the highlight of the deployment - the wonder and excitement of the children was just incredible,” Petty Officer Adams said.

“The kids were great, and so competitive and adept, and I think the donation of the AFL balls may well see the game take hold in this part of Cambodia."

After a memorable afternoon, the ship’s company donated a large assortment of sporting equipment on behalf of Perth, as well as a framed photo of the children taken during their tour on the ship that morning. The excitement and delight of the children was infectious with everyone from the ship expressing it was the highlight of their trip.

A working party from the Perth led by the Ship’s Warrant Officer, Warrant Officer Dave Hutt, visited a Baby and Child Day Care Centre to paint their newly constructed building. The centre is located in a very deprived area of the city and seeks to provide local low-income families access to safe day care facilities. This allows the parents to seek work while older siblings stay in education longer rather than caring for their younger brothers and sisters. Temperatures reached 40°C as the working party undertook work to paint both the internal and external walls.

David Shoemaker from ‘M’Lop Tapang was delighted with the work that the ship’s company completed during their visit.

Perth’s help came at a great time as we have just finished constructing the building, and to have this type of support with painting is fantastic," Mr Shoemaker said.

"It brings us closer to opening, which will make a real difference to the families around this impoverished area.

“I wish to also thank the ship’s company of Perth for all their efforts, as the children loved both the ship’s tour and the sports day, and the donation of sporting equipment will be a talking point for many months to come.” 

Perth’s Commanding Officer Captain Ivan Ingham said that sailing from Sihanoukville marked the end of the enjoyable deployment.

“It had been a busy six weeks since we left Australia. We have packed a lot in with a challenging programme which had seen Perth at sea exercising with many of our naval partners and alongside meeting a wide range of regional engagement tasks.

“At all time, our sailors’ behaviour and professionalism has drawn very favourable comment for our hosts and visitors, and I am proud to say they have been excellent ambassadors for the Royal Australian Navy and Australia,” he said.

The ship is currently participating in Exercise TALISMAN SABRE 2015 before conducting a security patrol of the North West Shelf before arriving home to Fleet Base West at the end of July.