With the national bushfire emergency still ongoing, the Royal Australian Navy amphibious ship HMAS Choules – now affectionately known as the “Mallacoota Ferry” – has conducted a second evacuation from Mallacoota in Victoria’s East Gippsland region.
CAPTION: An LCM8 transits from HMAS Choules to HMAS Cerberus to disembark evacuees from Mallacoota during Operation Bushfire Assist 19-20 as the ship takes on supplies via the ship’s MRH-90 helicopter. Photo by Petty Officer Helen Frank. Story by Lieutenant Commander Des Paroz.
RELATED STORIES: Operation Bushfire Assist 19-20
A day after returning to the fire-ravaged area, Choules evacuated 280 more people, including 66 Country Fire Authority (CFA) firefighters.
Choules’ Personnel Officer Chief Petty Officer Maritime Logistics – Personnel Heath Jones oversaw the registration and coordination of both evacuation operations from Mallacoota to the ship.
“The first evacuation saw all the people who initially wanted to leave being embarked, but a number of people stayed behind in Mallacoota to offer assistance,” Chief Petty Officer Jones said.
“Many sent other family members on the first opportunity, and over the coming days it became clear the immediate crisis was over, but evacuation by road would not be possible for some time.
“When we offered the second opportunity on our return, most visitors and some residents took it up, and we were also pleased to be able to assist the CFA volunteers in getting home at the end of their deployment.
“All members of Choules’ family are proud that we have been able to assist the evacuation and to re-unite families. Helping to bring home the CFA volunteers has been especially gratifying.”
Firefighter Samantha Rothman worked as part of the team in the forward command vehicle of CFA Strike Team 0204 Deployment 3, which consisted of five tankers.
“We have been deployed to the East Gippsland region for the past few days, in the third deployment to Mallacoota, so we had already had two previous crews in there for the fire fight,” she said.
“At the time that we arrived there was a lot of difficulty getting in and out, and when we arrived in Mallacoota we were tasked with supporting the community, identifying any hotspots around the town, working with the locals, making sure they were safe, and dealing with any hazards.
“Our Strike Team crew of 23 has been amazing, doing an awesome job in very difficult conditions.
“The added bonus has been the Chinook or Spartan ride into Mallacoota, and the ride home in Choules.
“Choules has been really awesome, the beds are comfortable, the food is amazing, and everyone you meet has a smile on their face and goes out of their way to help you.”
Choules’ Commanding Officer Commander Scott Houlihan said that this type of deployment reflected the flexibility and capability provided by the Australian Navy’s amphibious capability.
“HMA Ships Canberra, Adelaide and Choules together comprise a world-leading amphibious capability,” Commander Houlihan said.
“This is the most significant evacuation of civilians I have experienced in almost 30 years in the Navy, and it is certainly the most rewarding activity I have been involved in.
“The ability to help a mate out is its own reward, but the response from our evacuees and the authorities in Mallacoota and beyond has been overwhelming.
“Choules’ family is proud to be part of Navy’s overall contribution to the multi-agency efforts.”