FSU has the Fleet’s back

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Ryan Zerbe (author), LSIS Leo Baumgartner (photographer)

Location(s): Fleet Base East, NSW

Topic(s): Fleet Support Unit - South East

Able Seaman Marine Technician Jayden Lowe conducts welding at Fleet Support Unit - South East, Garden Island Naval Base, Sydney. (photo: LSIS Leo Baumgartner)
Able Seaman Marine Technician Jayden Lowe conducts welding at Fleet Support Unit - South East, Garden Island Naval Base, Sydney.

By many measures, 2020 has been a uniquely challenging year, but the men and women of Navy’s Fleet Support Unit (FSU) have worked hard to keep Australia’s warships operationally ready.

FSU has more than 700 people around the country, responsible for keeping the major and minor fleet units sea-worthy, including both scheduled and corrective maintenance.

Around 300 members of this workforce are employed at FSU - South East, based at Garden Island in Sydney.

Since the Reduced Activity Period was overtaken by the bushfire emergency, the group has been consistently busy, readying ships to sail and adjusting to program changes.

Executive Manager of FSU - South East, Lieutenant William Grills, said the team had worked well to deliver for the Fleet in unusual circumstances.

“A number of our personnel were recalled from leave to prepare ships to sail at short notice as part of Navy’s commitment to Operation BUSHFIRE ASSIST, which we’re very proud of,” Lieutenant Grills said.

“We’ve had to carefully manage and re-prioritise the needs of a lot of ships due to program changes but we’ve successfully completed six projects concurrently, ensuring HMA Ships Brisbane, Hobart, Stuart, Adelaide, Canberra, and Choules were ready for sea. We’ve also supported the transition of two former Australian warships to new owners.”

“In some cases we’ve provided short-notice assistance, including installing equipment to restore missile telemetry in HMAS Hobart and quickly fabricating parts for HMAS Canberra’s 25mm typhoon cannon before the ship deployed.”

While many workplaces have been able to implement work-from-home arrangements and still achieve their core business, FSU is staffed primarily by technical sailors performing hands-on work.

The transition to a safe work environment was challenging but new approaches have proven successful at FSU - South East.

“As our primary role is providing maintenance support to Sydney-based ships, members of FSU cannot work from home,” Lieutenant Grills said.

“We have a very large workforce in Sydney and we could not socially distance in our workspace. Instead, we transitioned the workforce into two split shifts, to ensure social distancing in our workshops. It also means our people can catch public transport less frequently during peak travel times and also better manage fatigue and time at home.”

With COVID-19 set to shape how workplaces run for the foreseeable future and a number of FSU - South East personnel now temporarily assigned to the whole-of-government response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lieutenant Grills said the experiences of 2020 have made the team more flexible.

“Successfully managing our workload was always going to be challenging, but adding COVID-19 restrictions to the situation showed us how adaptable and how flexible we can be.”