• HMAS Canberra will have to negotiate the remnants of TC Winston as she heads towards Fiji later this week. Credit: Defence
    HMAS Canberra will have to negotiate the remnants of TC Winston as she heads towards Fiji later this week. Credit: Defence

In the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Winston which struck the islands of Fiji last weekend Australia has contributed significant Defence assets and personnel to Operation Fiji Assist, with the Minister for Defence confirming that the LHD HMAS Canberra would be despatched to arrive in the disaster zone by March 1. 

In response to questions from Senator Linda Reynolds, the Minister Payne said the death toll had risen to 36 and over 35,000 people had been displaced from their homes and were in evacuation centres.

Four C-17 Globemaster III sorties had already been flown to Fiji, carrying MRH-90 helicopters, personnel and 19 tonnes of equipment. This comprised of approximately 1500 hygiene kits, 10 cartons of water purification tablets, and over 600 tarpaulins and shelter kits for about 9,000 people, according to Minister Payne.

"We've also taken in a six-person medical assistance team, comprising doctors, nurses and paramedics. We are now conducting daily C-17 flights from RAAF Base Amberley to deliver equipment, support personnel and supplies," Minister Payne said.

"We have established a joint task force consisting of Navy, Army and Air Force elements based in Suva, which is coordinating the surveillance activity and humanitarian assistance – making a total of 32 ADF personnel.

 "The first of the MRH-90 helicopters is expected to commence operations tomorrow and it will be assisting in the delivery of personnel and supplies, particularly to remote and very difficult to access locations.

"Yesterday the Government of Fiji requested the deployment of HMAS Canberra to assist in the relief operation and the ADF is undertaking some 'quite detailed preparations' to deploy [the ship] and she is anticipated to arrive on or around 1 March – it is worthy to note that there is a cyclone of varying [strength] between us and Fiji still, so that is a detailed process.

"This will be the first deployment of HMAS Canberra in a humanitarian and disaster relief (HADR) operation overseas. Secondly, a P-3C Orion surveillance aircraft has also been tasked to assist in the damage assessment - I also refer to the work of the NZDF and one of their Orions earlier in the week," Minister Payne said in response to questions in the Senate.   

The deployment of Canberra will be a huge test for the Navy's new amphibious and HADR asset, with the ship still to be completely certified for full HADR capability.

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