ALMOST 13 tonnes of hash and nearly 1.4 tonnes of heroin have been seized over the past seven months, and it’s all been thanks to the Ballarat name.
Navy frigate HMAS Ballarat (II) is now seven months into its nine month deployment in the middle east, operating throughout the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, along the African coach and to the Seychelles.
The 192 crew on board have joined 33 nations from around the world, looking at security and stability in the region.
Commanding Officer Paul Johnson said it had been a busy few months at sea.
“Within the organisation there are three taskforces. Taskforce 150 is security and counter terrorism, 151, counter piracy, 152 deals with security within the Arabian gulf itself,” he said.
“A lot of the work you have seen is the work we do with taskforce 150.
“In that we conduct operation including counter operations, counter weapons, counter smuggling, we’ve had some successes there including 10 successful drug seizures where we’ve just broken the $1 billion AUD mark of value of drugs seized
“In all we’ve taken 1.4 tonnes of heroin and just shy of 13 tonnes of hash.”
HMAS Ballarat (II) is the sixth of eight Anzac class frigates built at Williamstown coming into use in 2004. It is about half way through its life. It is a long-range frigate capable of air defence, surface and undersea warfare, surveillance, reconnaissance and interdiction.
Currently deployed on Operation Manitou, Ballarat is the 67th rotation of a Royal Australian Navy vessel to the region since 1990. Operation Manitou is the Australian Government’s contribution to international efforts to promote maritime security, stability and prosperity in the Middle East Region. Commander Johnson had high praise for his crew, who often were put into grave danger while carrying out their duty.
“Every boarding operation there’s a degree of risk,” he said.
“We’ve got good training, good situational awareness and frameworks before we go into these things.
“These are well established trafficking routes from Afghanistan to Europe. There are both overland or overseas routes.
“There are some pretty arduous conditions, some of the larger hauls our crews can spend 10-12 hours on board a small wooden boat.
“Generally we are intercepting dows, which are wooden trading boats, about 20-30 metres in length, with crews from 6-20 on board.
“It’s a challenge to know which ones are regional fishing boats and coastal traders. It’s a needle in a haystack job in trying to find the ones that don’t look quite right or are up to no good and you don’t always get it right.”
Commander Johnson said the 190 crew on board were a community unto itself with everything from a chaplain, doctors and specialist teams keeping the operation humming along for its nine month duration.
“It’s one of the real challenges being away from home for so long,” he said.
“It’s probably a different challenge for me who’s been in the Navy 27 years, I cam into it before the internet.
“With this deployment because it is so long, we have had a maintenance period in the middle east within the middle of the deployment which has allowed people to have two weeks leave to either go home or go travelling. It helps breaks the back of it.
“We’ve also increased our bandwidth and connectivity, it’s pretty limited bandwidth and you’ve got 190 people sharing it and so we’re not downloading movies, but it allow people to skype or use whats app, so it provides a service.”
The technology is a far cry from the original HMAS Ballarat which operating throughout World War II
HMAS Ballarat (I) was one of 60 Australian Minesweepers (commonly known as corvettes) built during World War II in Australian shipyards as part of the Commonwealth Government’s wartime shipbuilding program.
On 14 November 1941, Ballarat (I) departed Sydney ad arrived in Darwin December 8. Two days later Ballarat (I) commenced escort duty between Darwin, Timor and Ambon.
She saw action early, arriving at Batavia early in January 1942. She then proceeded to Singapore.
After leaving Singapore on February 3, 1942 she carried out patrols in Banka Strait (‘Bomb Alley’), and was employed also in rescuing shipwrecked crews and carrying out demolition work.
Ballarat (I) carried out one of the largest rescue operations, picking up 215 survivors from the SS Derrymore, 60 miles north west of Batavia on February 14, 1942. The Derrymore had been sunk by Japanese submarine. Among those rescued by Ballarat (I) was Flying Officer John Gorton RAAF, who was later to become Prime Minister.
Ballarat (I) took part in the surrender ceremony at Tokyo, after which she was engaged in minesweeping in the Hong Kong area with the 20th and 21st Minesweeping Flotillas.
She was damaged by a mine at Amoy on November 6, and returned to Melbourne in December. At the conclusion of the way Ballarat (I) had steamed 130,000 miles.
Ballarat (I) did not leave Australian waters again and is believed to have been broken up in 1953.
Commander Johnson said one of the biggest issues the crew faced was fatigue.
“Fatigue is a thing we really actively manage in the short term and in the long term,” he said.
“Heat can really impact, coming into summer, we can get a dry air temperature inexcess of 35 and humidity, only going to get worse over the next six weeks.”
He said the ship will soon go into a leave period before a regeneration of operations including a a 50-60 per cent crew turn over, training and new deployment begins.
“This deployment has been challenging but really rewarding,” he said.
“We started in India, visited Pakistan, Kuwait, on top of the combined maritime forced work, regional engagement, high end exercises and we integrated into two carrier strike groups from the United States and France which has kept us on our toes.
“The Navy is a leaner more professional organisation than we were 27 years ago, out commitments are higher than we’ve ever had compared to the amount of ships
“But at the heart of it, sailors remain unchanged, hard working, flexible and committed.”
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