HMAS Canberra on operation for the first time

Published on LSIS Helen Frank (author), POIS Yuri Ramsey (photographer)

Location(s): Koro Island, Fiji

HMAS Canberra conducting ampibious operations off the coast of Fiji during Operation Fiji Assist 2016. (photo: POIS Yuri Ramsey)
HMAS Canberra conducting ampibious operations off the coast of Fiji during Operation Fiji Assist 2016.

HMAS Canberra has deployed on its first operational tasking, delivering humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as part of Joint Task Force 635, the Australian Defence Force’s support to the Australian whole-of-government response to a request by the Fiji government.

Setting sail on the evening of 25 February, the amphibious ship left Brisbane as part of Operation FIJI ASSIST 2016, with more than 760 Australian Defence Force personnel, 30 vehicles, 60 tonnes of emergency relief supplies and two additional MRH-90 helicopters.

Commanding Officer, Captain Chris Smith said the ship was specifically designed with this type of mission in mind.

"The ship itself brings a huge amount of capacity both in the aid it can carry and the personnel we can transport," Captain Smith said.

Complimenting the ship’s company of almost 400, the 350 additional troops included Australian Army combat engineers, carpenters, electricians and plumbers to support the rebuilding of critical infrastructure and distribution of humanitarian aid and disaster relief.

 arrived in Fiji on 1 March and immediately began supporting the Fijian Government’s disaster management plan, with aid delivery and rebuilding work focussed on Koro Island, followed by the delivery of aid to Taveuni Island on 11 March.

Both islands were struck by Tropical Cyclone Winston on the afternoon of 20 February, with Koro Island suffering the worst damage.

The ship's amphibious capability allowed the Joint Task Force to deliver significant humanitarian aid and disaster relief quickly to the effected communities.

Captain Smith said Canberra's inherent mobility, coupled with the ship’s aircraft and landing craft has enabled access all parts of the Fijian archipelago, from the most remote islands to the small villages in the highlands.

“We have landed Army engineers on one of the worst hit islands, Koro to assist in disaster relief,” Captain Smith said.

At the same time we have provided the Fijian government and other aid organisations access to communities across the island chain, to make assessments of needs and to provide humanitarian aid.

“All the while, Canberra has not placed any demands on the local community as we are self sustaining.”

Captain Smith said he was filled with pride watching the young men and women of Canberra working so hard to help the people of Fiji rebuild their lives.

“The Fijian people have shown great resilience in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Winston and it is fitting that HMAS Canberra's first overseas deployment, is one aimed at helping a neighbour in need,” Captain Smith said.

“It is a proud moment for the Australian Defence Force, and personally very rewarding.”

More imagery is available through the Defence Imagery Gallery