At the end of their third Middle Eastern patrol, the crew of HMAS Newcastle visited the Jordanian port of Aqaba for a five-day respite visit. It was the first time in 12 months an Australian Naval Ship has ventured into the far north Red Sea.
The stop also included official international engagements and training activities with the Royal Jordanian Naval Force.
The visit to Aqaba enabled Newcastle’s ship’s company to visit spectacular local destinations such as the Dead Sea and the ancient city of Petra. Some of the world’s best SCUBA diving sites were also in the area.
Due to the distance of these places from the port, the crew spent up to eight hours in the bus to see these sights. Though long days, they were unforgettable experiences.
Visiting Petra, a site that has featured in Hollywood films such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Arabian Nights and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, was an awe-inspiring experience. The city formed an important junction for the silk, spice and other trade routes that linked ancient civilisations and is full of incredible feats of architecture.
Able Seaman Boatswains Mate (ABBM) Troy Bennett said Petra was “amazing” and something he would never forget.
“It is such a unique and ancient city - it is hard to imagine life back when this place was thriving.
“I also rode a camel down the main street, much like the locals would have done all those years ago!”
ABBM Lachlan Holliday also hired a camel and took it for a ride into the city centre of Aqaba.
“What a crazy adventure! Where else in the world could you get a camel and take it through a city?”
Those that ventured as far as the Dead Sea were not disappointed, even if the eight-hour round bus trip was not initially inviting.
The Dead Sea is a salt lake bordering Jordan to the east and Israel and Palestine to the west. Its surface and shores are 423m below sea level making it planet Earth's lowest elevation on land. It is also one of the world's saltiest bodies of water with 33.7% salinity.
Leading Seaman Electronics Technician Mike Knezevic said the experience of weightlessness while floating in the water was amazing.
“It was almost like it was impossible to sink. You are warned not to put your head under the water because the water stings your eyes and tastes horrible but it felt so good on my skin.”
It was still a busy port visit with a number of events taking place including an official reception, boarding party training, diving and damage control demonstrations for the Royal Jordanian Naval Force.
The official reception held onboard Newcastle hosted the Royal Jordanian Naval Force Commander, Jordanian locals and staff from the Australian Embassy.
The guests were able to taste some uniquely Australian cuisines and dishes including kangaroo and emu during the successful and enjoyable evening.
“The function was a wonderful opportunity to mingle with Jordanian representatives and allowed me to broaden my understanding of trade connections between Jordan and Australia,” Lieutenant Alisha Withers said.
“For instance, Australian short grain white rice is one of our biggest exports to Jordan.”
HMAS Newcastle's unofficial social ‘Dive Club’ enjoyed the crystal clear warm waters of the Red Sea and continued their diving adventure.
The highlight was the ‘Cedar Pride’, an 80m cargo ship wreck dive in approximately 24m of water with greater than 30m visibility. The Red Sea is often touted as one of the top dive sites in the world.
“The diving here is amazing, the water is warm and the visibility is amazing,” Chief Petty Officer Graeme Cruickshank said.
“This was one of the best dives I have ever been able to do and we have dived in the Seychelles and Bahrain on this trip, but Aqaba has been my favourite.”
On sailing, Newcastle was accompanied by two Royal Jordanian Naval Force patrol vessels and conducted a two-hour passage exercise before resuming her patrols as part of the Combined Maritime Force.
Newcastle is in the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO) assigned to Operation SLIPPER - the Australian Defence Force contribution to the international campaign against piracy, counter smuggling and counter piracy in the Gulf of Aden, and for enhancing regional maritime security and engagement. Her deployment is the 55th rotation of an Australian warship to the MEAO since 1990.
Imagery is available on the Royal Australian Navy Media Library at http://images.navy.gov.au/S20131421.