Australia buying offshore support vessel for humanitarian and disaster relief

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The Australian government is purchasing the MSV Skandi Bergen offshore support vessel to provide the Australian Defence Force (ADF) with the humanitarian and disaster relief capability required between now and the arrival of the two new Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) ships in the middle of the decade.

Minister for Defence Stephen Smith and Minister for Defence Materiel Jason Clare said the Skandi Bergen will add to the Royal Australian Navy’s current amphibious ships, HMAS Choules and HMAS Tobruk.

The 6 500 tonne ship is 105 metres long and 21 metres wide. It has accommodation for up to 100 people, more than 1 000 square metres of deck area, and a helipad. It is being bought for under AU$130 million.

It will primarily be used to transport troops and supplies in support of humanitarian and disaster relief operations around Australia and in the region.

The purchase of this vessel will also provide a long term capability for Customs and Border Protection.

After the Australian Defence Force introduces the LHDs into service, the vessel will be transferred to Customs and Border Protection.

The Skandi Bergen will be able to undertake patrols in the Southern Ocean providing surveillance, detection and apprehension of any vessels operating illegally. The vessel is able to operate in sub-Antarctic weather conditions.

The commercial off-the-shelf vessel will require minimal modifications and will enter into service in the middle of the year and will be operated under a civilian crewing arrangement, the Australian Ministry of Defence said.

The Skandi Bergen is the sister ship of the ACV Ocean Protector, currently operated by Customs and Border Protection.

The acquisition of the Skandi Bergen comes after the ADF did not have any amphibious ships available to provide assistance following Cyclone Yasi in February last year.

At that time Smith and Clare made no secret of their disappointment with the state of the Royal Australian Navy’s amphibious ships.

Since that time the government has taken a number of steps to rectify the problem with the Navy’s amphibious fleet.

In April last year the government purchased the RFA Largs Bay from the UK. In December it was officially commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy as the HMAS Choules.

In addition, work was conducted on HMAS Tobruk to return it to sea and, in order to maintain the Navy’s amphibious capability, ships were leased to supplement the existing capability. Subsea Operations Vessel Windermere was leased to provide extra support during the cyclone season.

Finally, in December last year Smith and Clare announced that they would pursue the purchase of an additional ship to be used by Navy, particularly for humanitarian and disaster relief situations.