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3 July 2012

Postcard from the Persian Gulf

by Able Seaman Combat Specialist Dylan Thomas

Leading Seaman Combat Specialist Joshua Tatana, Able Hydrographic Systems Operator Matthew Barber and I joined HMAS MELBOURNE, the Royal Australian Navy’s guided missile frigate, in early September 2011. We are deployed for a year in the Persian Gulf, conducting anti-piracy and counter-terrorism operations with Royal Australian Navy personnel to help ensure a safe passage for merchant sailors transiting through the Middle East.

Our first week on board the Australian ship was quite challenging as we tried to find our way around, master the ship’s routines and learn the different aspects of damage control, small arms drills and ceremonial practices. The ship’s company were very helpful though as we familiarised ourselves with the ship and its various equipment.

 

ASCS Thomas (right) with Leading Seaman Combat Specialist Joshua Tatana (front), Leading Seaman Boatswain Mate Liam Sweeten of the Royal Australian Navy (left) and Able Hydrographic Systems Operator Matthew Barber (centre) on board HMAS MELBOURNE: "It has been good to do what I have been trained for. It has been a pleasure working beside our ANZAC counterparts as Australian and New Zealand forces have done since World War I."

We spent the next three months doing work-ups with the Green Team (as the ship's company is referred to), who put us in mock wartime situations like air, surface and sub-surface attacks, fires and floods. We also underwent numerous boarding training, in which the three of us helped crew the boat that is tasked to ferry the boarding team to vessels of interest. Work-ups finished in mid-December and after exchanging hearty congratulations and firm handshakes, we flew home to New Zealand to spend Christmas with our families.

We returned to Fleet Base East in Sydney at the end of January 2012 to help get the ship ready for deployment. After chipping, painting, getting last-minute stores and doing a few bits here and there, we were all set to go.

On the 11th of February, we bid goodbye to family and friends on the wharf and embarked on a journey of a lifetime that took us to places like Diego Garcia and the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, and Qatar, Jordan and Dubai in the Middle East. I would never have the chance to see these places had I not joined the Navy.

My main job on board is to help crew a rigid hull inflatable boat for the boarding team. With the mercury often hitting 48 degrees Celsius and only hot water and jelly beans to sustain us, boardings can seem interminable when they last up to 11 hours.

We conduct two to three boardings a day on smaller dhows (traditional sailing vessels used in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean region), with each boarding taking only a couple of hours. As part of the bosuns party (which is in charge of a ship’s rigging, anchors, cables and deck crew, and is similar to our buffers yeoman on New Zealand ships), I help run the buffers store, look after all seamanship equipment on board and set up for replenishment at sea of bulk fluids such as diesel, aviation fuel and water. Replenishment of bulk fluids happens every three or four days during our patrols, and our longest patrol kept us at sea for 31 days.

All in all, it has been good to do what I have been trained for. It has been a pleasure working beside our ANZAC counterparts as Australian and New Zealand forces have done since World War I. I have made a lot of new Australian mates but of course, nothing beats the mates I have back home. I can’t wait to get back to New Zealand to see my family and catch up with the boys over a few loud ones.

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