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Fiji’s New Patrol Boat Evacuated After Grounding on First Patrol

Fiji grounded patrol boat
Fiji's new $10.6 million patrol boat was on its first deployment when it grounded and began flooding (Fiji Ministry of Home Affairs)

Published Jun 12, 2024 5:11 PM by The Maritime Executive

 

The Government of Fiji and the Fiji Navy are working to manage a major embarrassment after the country’s new patrol boat, a gift from Australia, grounded halfway through its maiden deployment. The sailors were safely evacuated while a crisis management team is working to save the vessel which is reported to be on a reef and flooding.

RFNS Puamau built by Australian shipbuilder Austal was delivered in March 2024 as part of an ongoing program of goodwill and mutual security between Australia and the neighboring island nations. The vessel, valued at approximately US$10.6 million, had just completed days of safety and survival at sea training. It had embarked on a two-week maiden patrol.

The Fiji Navy confirmed that the vessel grounded on Monday in the southeastern reaches of the island nation. Reports indicate it is in the remote Lau group of islands, with ABC News Australia calling it a “treacherous area” with difficult sea passages. 

There were reports of strong winds in the area, but the Navy will only say that the cause of the cause of the incident will be investigated. Learning of the grounding, the Navy dispatched another Austal-built patrol boat, RFNS Savenaca to the scene. They report without specifying a number that the crew was safely evacuated and surveys do not show any pollution coming from the patrol boat.

Media reports are indicating that the engine room of the patrol boat is flooding and efforts are underway to pump out the water and stabilize the vessel. The Australian Defence Force is also providing aerial assistance.

“Damage control teams, comprised of Navy divers and Navy engineers, are effecting temporary fixes and devising strategies for the removal of all fuel and the patrol boat’s de-storing, with aerial and surface assessments confirming the absence of any spills,” the Fiji Navy wrote in an update from earlier today. “The crisis management team continues to oversee the operation from HQ Navy in collaboration with key stakeholders.”

The vessel was the first of four Guardian-class Patrol Boats scheduled for delivery by Austal’s Western Australian shipyards in 2024 and the nineteenth delivered as part of the Pacific Patrol Boat Replacement Project initially awarded to Austal Australia in May 2016. The shipbuilder is receiving more than A$350 million (US$233 million), and delivering patrol boats being gifted by Australia to Papua New Guinea, Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Palau, Samoa, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and Timor-Leste.

The vessels are approximately 130-foot (39.5-meter) steel monohull patrol boats designed, constructed, and sustained by Austal Australia. According to the shipbuilder, they are faster than the previous Pacific-class patrol boats, with improved seakeeping, better amenities, and an enhanced mission capability. They have an integrated RHIB stern launch and recovery system and were designed to carry out border patrols, regional policing, search and rescue, and other operations domestically and internationally.

The media is saying that the vessels however received criticism with reports of defects including with the exhaust system. The Australian Department of Defence reportedly issued an advisory to the various nations on how to operate the vessels to reduce risks.

Concerns are being raised for the new vessel because of its exposed position and challenging sea conditions which could delay salvage efforts. The Fiji Navy said after the safe recovery of the crew and assisting their families, its focus is on safely recovering the vessel.