Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price welcomed the return of the Royal Australian Navy frigate HMAS Ballarat to Australia, after a highly successful nine-month deployment as part of Operation MANITOU.
Minister Reynolds praised the counter-terrorism efforts of Ballarat’s 200 officers and sailors, who have worked in the Combined Maritime Forces to seize nearly 20 tonnes of illicit drugs worth an estimated value of $1.41 billion*.
"HMAS Ballarat has played a significant role in promoting safety and security in the Middle East maritime environment by directly reducing the source of funding to terrorist organisations," Minister Reynolds said.
The warship also seized and destroyed nearly half a million rounds of small arms ammunition and 697 bags of chemical fertiliser, which had a potential use in the manufacture of improvised explosives.
"Ballarat’s ship company has worked tirelessly and professionally and we should be proud of their achievements," Minister Reynolds said.
Joined by Commander Australian Fleet, Rear Admiral Jonathan Mead, AM, Minister Price thanked the families of the ship’s company who gathered at Fleet Base West to welcome their return.
"To the family and friends who are gathered here today, we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude for your ongoing support over the nine-month deployment," Minister Price said.
Ballarat has spent the last 260 days deployed patrolling the area from the north Arabian Gulf to the southern Indian Ocean.
“Her service has been exemplary, seizing more than a billion dollars of illegal drugs and nearly half a million rounds of small-arms ammunition," Minister Price said.
"Now we look to the next generation of defence capability. That’s why the Australian government is investing $35 billion into the Future Frigate Program, to ensure the men and women of the Royal Australian Navy have the best capability on offer."
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Ballarat has integrated with two carrier strike groups and taken part in several high-end warfighting exercises with the navies of the US, UK, France and Gulf Cooperation Council states.
Commanding Officer HMAS Ballarat, Commander Paul Johnson, said the ship’s company worked hard to maintain a high level of operational capability.
"The work on-board Ballarat can be prolonged and arduous and it really is a whole of ship effort to sustain the boarding parties and achieve what we did," CMDR Johnson said.
HMAS Ballarat is a long-range frigate capable of air defence, surface and undersea warfare, surveillance, reconnaissance and interdiction. Ballarat's combat capabilities have been significantly improved under the Anti-Ship Missile Defence upgrade program, which provided an enhanced sensor and weapons systems capability.
Operation MANITOU is the Australian government's contribution to support international efforts to promote maritime security, stability and prosperity in the Middle East. An enhanced security environment ensures Australia's safe and open access to the region while fostering trade and commerce and a rules based global order.
Ballarat’s illicit drug seizures included approximately 19.76 tonnes of hashish, 1.41 tonnes of heroin and 50 kilograms of methamphetamine and amphetamine. This was the 67th rotation of a Royal Australian Navy vessel in the region since 1990.
*Calculation is based on the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission Illicit Drug Data Report 2015–16 figures for Cannabis Resin (Hashish) @ $50,000 per kilo p215) and Heroin @ $300,000 per kilo (p216).