Australian High Commission
Solomon Islands

HMAS Tobruk

3 July 2015


HMAS Tobruk, the Royal Australian Navy's ageing amphibious supply ship, made her final voyage into Sydney Harbour last week ahead of her decommissioning. The ship will be put rest after a long and distinguished career, which includes a strong affiliation with Solomon Islands and the Pacific.

In 2000 and 2001, Tobruk was sent to Solomon Islands on several deployments in response to the ‘ethnic tensions’- first to evacuate Australian citizens, then as a neutral venue for peace talks.

An example of Tobruk’s service to the Solomon Islands is well remembered by local woman, Mrs Helen Augwata.

In September 2000, Helen and over 40 members of her family undertook a journey onboard the timber cargo vessel ‘MV Thomas E’ to escort her late uncle’s (Billy Arafa) body back to their home village in Auki.

The vessel departed Honiara at approximately 3am and after battling inclement weather in Iron Bottom Sound, the Captain made the reluctant decision to continue passage through the rough seas of the Indispensable Strait.

At 8 am, the boat slowly began to sink, and the Captain called in a Mayday near Alite Reef and shortly after made the call to abandon ship. The crew deployed a life raft and the ship’s dingy for women and children while the men constructed a makeshift raft from debris.

“The seas were ferocious and the weather pushed us towards Isabel province at an incredible rate. At around 5pm the helicopter from Tobruk spotted us, and we all felt a huge sense of relief” recounted Mrs Augwata.

Supported by a Tulagi fishing boat, the helicopter immediately began a vertical winch recovery of the children and took them to Kilu’ufi Hospital in Auki. The fishing boat collected the residual surviving passengers with the exception of three seniors who were too weak to board. The helicopter made a swift return and was able to collect the last three patients and deliver them to the HMAS TOBRUK’s medical facility.

The Tulagi fishing vessel then reunited the family and crew in Auki. Days later in Honiara, Mrs Augwata’s family had the opportunity the meet with the Australian Defence Force crew. The commander of HMAS TOBRUK presented a plaque to Mrs Augwata which she treasures in the family home today.

Fifteen years later Tobruk once again played a major rescue and relief role in the Pacific when she was deployed to Vanuatu in March 2015, as part of Australia's response to the devastation caused by Cyclone Pam.

Speaking ahead of the decommissioning, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott paid tribute to HMAS Tobruk and her crew past and present who had served Australia with distinction, supporting many defence and humanitarian operations over the ships operational lifetime.

"HMAS Tobruk has fulfilled her mission and a grateful nation says thank-you," he told parliament.

The HMAS Tobruk was constructed at the Carrington shipyard in Newcastle and commissioned into the navy in 1981 to provide sea-lift capability for the Australian Army. Capable of carrying 3 helicopters, 18 leopard tanks, 40 armoured personnel carriers, up to 520 soldiers and 130 crew, HMAS Tobruk has run many emergency errands around the Pacific arena.

The HMAS Tobruk ends a 34-year career in the Royal Australian Navy and is retiring with about 2,000,000 kilometres travelled and countless lives helped.