HMAS Choules has returned to Mallacoota, Victoria, to provide additional support to the fire-ravaged coastal town as part of Defence’s contribution to Operation Bushfire Assist.
After successfully disembarking the evacuated passengers at Western Port, the crew of the Royal Australian Navy amphibious ship conducted a quick turnaround to return to Mallacoota.
The ship arrived at Western Port at 4:30pm on Saturday and, once the guests were safely disembarked, attention turned to the job of reconstituting and on-loading supplies and equipment to deliver to Mallacoota for the recovery efforts.
Command Warrant Officer, Warrant Officer Arthur Mitcherson, said the job of reconstitution was a significant task that the crew addressed with the same professionalism they have demonstrated since being recalled on New Year’s Eve.
"The crew all chipped in to help our human and animal guests to safely disembark, assisting many as they came down the gangway and re-gained their land legs," WO Mitcherson said.
"No sooner than the last guest was in the hands of the other agencies, everyone turned their attention to cleaning the decks, washing the blankets and bedding and making sure the ship was ready for her next task, just as enthusiastically as when we initially sailed for Mallacoota."
Once the ship was reconstituted, the next task was to begin on-loading supplies, equipment and personnel to assist the Mallacoota community that remains isolated and only accessible by sea or air.
Among the supplies brought on board were medications, including paediatric drugs, medical oxygen and respirators, as well as dog food, cat food, additional snacks and multiple pallets of bottled water.
Officer Commanding of Choules’ Ship’s Army Establishment, Major David English, oversaw the on-loading of a range of equipment, including Army and State Emergency Services vehicles, as well as VicForests vehicles and personnel.
MAJ English added, "As we return to Mallacoota, much of our focus will be to provide support to various agencies as they seek to clear roads and re-open access to the township by land. This will be a big task, and our focus is to provide whatever support we can to the various organisations who are best placed to handle each of these tasks."
Along with MV Sycamore and HMAS Adelaide, Choules is part of a significant RAN contribution to the Australian Defence Force’s efforts to support relief efforts for the current bushfire emergency.