Australian Navy Deploys Two Ships to Help Wildfire Evacuees

Mallacoota from about 1 nm off, Tuesday morning (Matt Manning / Twitter)

Published Jan 1, 2020 3:58 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Australian government has dispatched the landing dock ship HMAS Choules to deliver relief supplies and potentially evacuate some of the 4,000 people trapped in the town of Mallacoota, Victoria due to bushfires. 

The giant fires in New South Wales and Victoria have devastated communities along the coastline, forcing residents and tourists to flee for safety. On Tuesday, as smoke obscured the sun and flames lit the sky, the beaches at Mallacoota were temporarily transformed from a destination to a place of refuge. As of Wednesday the fires had finished burning through the area, but with roads to the outside cut off by fire damage, food and water are limited.

Mallacoota, midday Tuesday (Brendan H / Twitter)

Evacuees on the beach at Mallacoota, midday Tuesday (bluesfestblues / Twitter)

The Mallacoota Lake marina, Tuesday morning (Bradley Deacon)

The fire's aftermath in Mallacoota (Yusuf Danet / Twitter)

The HMAS Choules has capacity to evacuate about 1,000 people at a time if needed - not enough for everyone in Mallacoota, but a significant lift for high-priority cases. “We are exploring all our options," said Victoria emergency management commissioner Andrew Crisp in a press conference Wednesday. "Evacuating some people from Mallacoota by sea is an option we’re seriously considering.”

HMAS Choules has a well deck sized to handle one standard Landing Craft - Utility or two Mexeflote powered landing barges. Her cargo capacity includes 1,200 lane-meters of ro/ro space (enough for 150 light trucks) and the room for 24 TEU of containerized cargo. At overload rating, she can deploy with 700 equipped troops plus 160 crew. She has enough flight deck space for heavy-lift helicopters and tilt-rotor Ospreys. As of Thursday morning local time, HMAS Choules was arriving in the bay just off Mallacoota. 

The Royal Australian Navy aviation training vessel MV Sycamore will also sail for the Mallacoota region, according to Australian minister of defense Linda Reynolds. The civilian-operated Sycamore has a helicopter flight deck and berthing capacity for 70 personnel. Additional relief supplies will be delivered by commercial barge transport.