• HMAS Melbourne sails into Sydney Harbour for the last time.
    HMAS Melbourne sails into Sydney Harbour for the last time. Defence

News came late last week that Defence has sold former Adelaide-class frigates HMAS Melbourne and HMAS Newcastle to the Chilean Navy for a deal reportedly worth $110 million.

Reports indicate that the formal ceremony was held at HMAS Watson on 15 April. Defence confirmed to ADM that the ships, now known as the Almirante Latorre and Capitan Prat, will remain in Sydney and in NSW waters until May whilst crew training is underway.

They replace two Chilean air defence frigates purchased second-hand from the Netherlands in 2004.

It has also been reported that the Phalanx Close-In Weapons System (CIWS) will be removed in Australia, and the ships with be retrofitted with the Thales Goalkeeper CIWS after arrival in Chile. The date of arrival is uncertain given COVID-19 restrictions.

Defence, however, would only confirm that the transfer had taken place and that the ships will remain in Australia for crew training. In a response to questions from ADM, the Department declined to confirm when the handover took place, financial figures or details on which weapons systems are being removed.

“As the ships are now formally owned by a foreign Navy, Defence will not be providing further comment,” a spokesperson said. “Please direct further enquiries to the Chilean Government.”

The Chilean Government is believed to want to avoid publicity of the purchase given recent major protests in the country against inequality, which saw up to five per cent of the population take to the streets in October last year.

Last August, ADM revealed that representatives from the Greek Navy were hosted aboard HMAS Newcastle as it was docked in Singapore during Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2019. Two months later, the Australian Embassy in Athens requested a meeting with the Greek Agency for Military Procurements.

ADM understands that Greek interest in the ships, however, waned because Australia declined to include SM-2 Block IIIA air defence missiles and Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles (ESSMs) in the deal. Sources also indicated that the Greek representatives hosted in Singapore were ‘not happy’ with the condition of the ships.

Greece is seeking new warships for acute operational requirements related to protecting gas fields around Cyprus from Turkish incursions.

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