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PNG naval elements join international fleet in Sydney


Australia leads ships of the expeditionary force into Rabaul Harbour, 12 September 1914TODAY IS THE ONE HUNDREDTH ANNIVERSARY of the arrival of Australia's first naval forces into Sydney harbour.

The celebration is plastered all over the news bulletins, ships of many nations are in Sydney Harbour and a grand spectacle it is. (I'm a sucker for ships and anything maritime).

But what many people may not realise is that Australia's navy has had a long and productive relationship with its Pacific neighbours, especially Papua New Guinea. It all started with the entry of the Australian fleet into Rabaul in 1914 (pictured).

Today's Fleet Review has been a wonderful show and most news outlets are reporting the big guns like the US, UK and China. But there is also participation by many smaller nations which the Australian navy has over many years trained and equipped.

These includes Tonga, Samoa, Micronesia and, of course, Papua New Guinea: PNG’s naval component more correctly termed the Maritime Operations Element of the PNG Defence Force.

The navy is commanded by Captain Max Aleale and consists of approximately 200 personnel based in Port Moresby, Manus Island and Milne Bay.

Its assets currently comprise four Pacific class patrol boats (supplied by Australia) and two Balikpapan class landing craft (transferred from the Royal Australian Navy)).

According to Janes, the bible of military hardware, the PNG navy is badly underfunded and much of its equipment is in need of maintenance.

As a consequence it is scarcely able to carry out its tasks, with operations often delayed or cancelled.

The navy's patrol craft are barely effective with fuel costs and maintenance problems meaning that often only one boat is available for sea duty at any time.

The heavy landing craft have high upkeep costs and are nearing the end of their service life. A

Although the patrol boats may be at times serviceable, the task of patrolling a large Exclusive Economic Zone is great and they are heavily reliant for information about the presence of foreign ships on daily reports supplied by US satellite surveillance.

The main concern is illegal tuna fishing by Japanese trawlers. The navy would like larger vessels as the Pacific class boats experiences difficulties in deep ocean conditions. PNG is exploring the possibility of procuring a 2,000 tonne multipurpose vessel or converting a merchant vessel for patrol duties.

HMPNGS DregerHMPNGS RabaulThe good news is that two PNG Pacific class patrol boats are in Sydney harbour for the Fleet Review - HMPNGS Rabaul (left) and HMPNGS Dreger (right).

Australia continues to assist the navy patrol PNG waters and train personnel. A Royal Australian Navy Officer has been seconded to PNG's National Coordination Centre and joint exercises are held regularly to review and strengthen current maritime border surveillance. The Australian Customs service also takes part in cross-border patrols.

I met some PNG naval personnel in Kavieng a few years ago and after a few drinks we got talking. They said, 'You know Australia and PNG will continue to support each and our navies, no matter what political differences there may be.' We had a drink to that.

I think that, considering the importance of the surrounding oceans to Papua New Guinea's existence, and the increasing political concerns about illegal fishing, refugee arrivals and illegal activities on the seas, PNG should raise the priority of funding for its maritime defence resources.

Top photo: the Australian expeditionary force enters Simpson Harbour, Rabaul, on 12 September 1914 soon after the outbreak of World War I


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Peter Kranz

My first thought for the title of this was 'Naval Gazing'.

Perhaps a bit too punny.

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