A Defence press release issued today says Joint Task Force 637 and Her Majesty’s Australian Ship Sirius will arrive in Fiji in early July for a five day port-call, signalling the start of what will be a comprehensive six-month program of official activities throughout the region.
CAPTION: HMAS Sirius at anchor off the coast of Samoa. Photo by Corporal Jessica de Rouw.
The statement went on to say Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Timor-Leste, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Samoa, and the Micronesia region would join Fiji as focal points for cultural exchanges and training activities.
However – and confusingly – photos on the Defence web site show HMAS Sirius already in Samoa, since at least 26 June – though no mention of JTF637 was made in the photo captions.
Unable to dock in Apia, HMAS Sirius anchored off shore, in sight of the capital, and sent crewmembers and other personnel ashore to participate in community engagements, including assisting local authorities prepare for the upcoming Pacific Games.
Crewmembers also visited Samoa Police Service and met with Police Commissioner Fuiavailili Egon Keil and his executive on Tuesday this week.
Australian Army Band musicians also played alongside Royal Samoa Police Band members at a music workshop in Apia
According to a local Samoan newspaper’s web site, HMAS Sirius left Samoa yesterday, presumably bound for Fiji, however, CONTACT does not know if the Samoa visit over the past nine days counts as part of the JTF637 mission or if HMAS Sirius will return to Samoa later in her current voyage to fulfil that commitment.
The current voyage is part of the Australian Defence Force’s support to the Australian government’s Pacific Step-Up initiative – a series of engagements across the Southwest Pacific and Timor-Leste.
Commander Joint Task Group 637 Major General Jake Ellwood said the new series of engagements continued to reflect Australia’s commitment to the Pacific community in developing stronger people-to-people links.
“Defence activities are an important part of the Australian government’s program of enhanced engagement throughout the region, with the ongoing security and prosperity of our partners being our highest priority,” Major General Ellwood said.
“We are interested in expanding our understanding of the needs of our neighbours and cementing our relationships with their national-security forces.”
Key events in the program include a Guardian-class patrol boat commissioning in Tonga, hydrographic survey activities, air-transport support to Pacific Islands Forum delegates, and mutual training in Papua New Guinea.
Defence will also continue to help remove the danger of unexploded remnants of war in Solomon Islands under Operation Render Safe, conduct a joint Exercise Vanuatu Alliance in Vanuatu, and support efforts to curb illegal fishing across Micronesia.
Major General Ellwood said the varied nature of the activities reflected the diverse geographic locations, histories, cultures and experiences of the participating nations.
“Australia’s enduring connection to Pacific-island nations and Timor-Leste, as well as our proximity to this region, supports a like-minded approach to common goals such as regional security and the protection of sovereignty.”