The RAN’s Amphibious landing ship HMAS Choules and Coastal Mine Hunters HMAS Gascoyne and Yarra have joined a French-led multinational force to participate in valuable disaster response training designed to increase Australia’s ability to operate alongside regional nations.
Running until 25 May, Exercise CROIX DU SUD (Southern Cross) 18 is the largest humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) training exercise in the South Pacific. Led by the French Armed Forces of New Caledonia (FANC), CROIX DU SUD is held every two years as part of France’s engagement in the region.
Around 300 members of the Australian Defence Force are taking part in CROIX DU SUD this year. The Exercise is designed to ensure all involved are prepared for major HADR operations. The scenario will call for military assistance including a non-combatant evacuation operation followed by stability and security operations.
HMAS Choules will be the command ship in the exercise. Commanding Officer, Commander Scott Houlihan said they are looking forward to the task. "We are embarking a French Maritime Component Commander (MCC) staff to coordinate the HADR effort," CMDR Houlihan said. "We will be working alongside the other principle amphibious ships including French Ship D’Entrecasteau and Her Majesty’s New Zealand Ships Wellington and Canterbury."
“Australia is very experienced in supplying aid and disaster recovery forces in the region and assisting people in need is one of our most rewarding tasks,” he said, ”But CROIX DU SUD will tackle the more difficult areas of disaster response.’
HMAS Choules has around 30 soldiers from 3 Combat Engineer Regiment (3 CER) based in Townsville, and 40 members of the US Marine Rotational Force - Darwin embarked.
The marines are fully integrated into the ship’s routines, and will remain with the ship until its return in Brisbane at the end of May.
HMAS Choules will be embarking a landing force of up to 300 troops and vehicles, primarily from France (a company group) and personnel from Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.
"CROIX DU SUD provides an opportunity for the ADF to train with other nations to respond to a significant regional disaster scenario," Commander Houlihan said.
"The exercise demonstrates Australia’s enduring contribution to humanitarian missions with our regional partners."