HMA Ships Benalla and Shepparton decommissioned

Remotely controlled unmanned vessels with autopilot capabilities will replace two naval ships, with the decommissioning of HMA Ships Benalla and Shepparton.

CAPTION: HMAS Benalla makes its final approach into HMAS Cairns, Queensland. Story by Corporal Luke Bellman. Photo by Able Seaman Lauren Pugsley.

They make way for robots, autonomous systems and artificial intelligence that will form Navy’s new optimised hydrographic survey capability.

The ships were based at HMAS Cairns, operated as pairs and collected data to help chart Australia’s northern coastline for more than 30 years.

Commanding Officer Benalla Lieutenant Commander Michael Casey said the survey ships had sailed the same distance it would take to go to the moon and back four times.

“Old stuff is built to last,” Lieutenant Commander Casey said.

“I treated Benalla with the respect I would with an old car.

“Surveying is exploring what we can’t see underneath, we would find things never seen before, such as wrecks, shoals and subsurface obstructions.

“It’s sad to see them go – these ships have served for more than 33 years with distinction and have been home to hundreds of sailors.”

They operated using highly sophisticated sonars to map the sea around Australia and the South Pacific Ocean.

The Australian Hydrographic Office created charts with the data, enabling vessels to navigate safety.

The vessels operated with a maximum of 22 personnel and minimum of 14, who will now go into more deployable survey teams, which operate the autonomous and robotic systems.

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CAPTION: HMAS Shepparton conducting the Torres Strait Survey in May 2013.

Shepparton was the “lady of the fleet”, being the oldest commissioned ship in service.

HMAS Anzac will now take on that honour.

Commanding Officer Shepparton Lieutenant Commander Benjamin Stevenson said turning up to work each day with a motivated and exceptional team made it worth while.

“Having a small crew was difficult and required everyone to do their job with minimal supervision.

“It doesn’t leave much redundancy – it’s like a rugby team, everyone has to work together to win,” he said.

It is expected that the next Navy military survey vessel will be built in Henderson, Western Australia, later in the decade.

The transition to the Hydrographic Industry Partnership Program began nearly two years ago, part of a $150 million investment.

The Defence Strategic Review accelerated the decommissioning.

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CAPTION: HMAS Benalla makes her final approach into HMAS Cairns, Queensland. Photo by Leading Seaman Shane Cameron.






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