Rear Admiral Marcus Frederick Bonser

Marcus ‘Mark’ Frederick Bonser was born in Sydney on 7 August 1952 and educated at Manly Boys High School and Macksville High School.  He joined the RAN College as a senior entry cadet midshipman in January 1971.   Bonser was promoted midshipman and joined the fast troop transport HMAS Sydney in September 1972 for training; which included the ships last deployment to Vietnam (during 23-24 November 1972) to deliver humanitarian aid to Cambodia (which was trans-shipped from Vung Tau).  He was promoted sub-lieutenant in December 1973 and appointed to the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne, in August 1974, to obtain his bridge watch-keeping qualification.

Sub-Lieutenant Bonser joined the patrol boat HMAS Advance in June 1975 as executive officer.  During his year of service in her the ship operated from Darwin conducting fisheries protection and maritime surveillance patrols in northern Australian waters.  Bonser was promoted lieutenant in March 1976 and undertook short training courses at HMAS Watson and HMAS Cerberus in mid-1976 before joining the training ship HMAS Duchess, in September 1976, as an officer of the watch.   Duchess was a Daring class destroyer, that had been converted to a training ship in mid-1974, and took groups of midshipmen to sea for sea experience and navigational training.  She operated mainly in Australian, New Zealand and South West Pacific Waters.  Duchess conducted her last training cruise, to Fiji, in late 1977 and on returning to Australia was decommissioned on 24 October 1977. 

In October 1977, Bonser transferred to the new training ship HMAS Jervis Bay as an officer of the watch and served in her until April 1979.  During his time on board the ship also conducted training cruises to ports in Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia and the South West Pacific to provide ‘at sea training’ for RAN College midshipmen and trainees from other Commonwealth navies.

He joined the hydrographic vessel HMAS Diamantina (a former WW II Frigate) in April 1979 for her deployment to Northern Australian waters and Singapore with a number of embarked scientific staff conducting experiments with anti-submarine towed array systems.  Diamantina returned to Sydney in August 1979 but more testing was undertaken off the east coast in October-November.  Lieutenant Bonser departed the ship in November and returned to the patrol boat force in December 1979 as the commanding officer of HMAS Aware.

While in command of Aware the patrol boat was based in Darwin, as part of the Third Patrol Boat Squadron, and conducted fisheries patrols and border protection duties.  Bonser relinquished command in January 1982 and then served briefly in the Landing Ship Heavy, HMAS Tobruk, during February – April 1982. He then proceeded to the United Kingdom to undertake the Principal Warfare Officers (PWO) Course and he subsequently qualified as a PWO (Anti-Submarine Warfare).  Bonser then served on exchange with the Royal Navy in the destroyers HMS Antrim and HMS Glamorgan. He was promoted lieutenant commander on 31 December 1983 and returned to Australia in mid-1985.

Lieutenant Commander Bonser was appointed to the guided missile destroyer HMAS Perth in June 1985 as the anti-submarine warfare officer.  During his service in Perth the ship operated in Australian and Southeast Asian waters conducting various training activities and exercises. On 14 October 1985, while conducting Exercise CORAL SEA off the coast of New South Wales, Perth undertook the rescue of 24 crewmen from the Singaporean vessel, MV Hoelien; the ship sank later that day. Perth also took part in the Navy’s 75th Anniversary celebrations during 1986.   

In early 1987 he completed training at HMAS Watson before joining HMAS Torrens as executive officer in April 1987.  During his twelve months on board the destroyer escort took part in the RAN’s rolling deployments to Southeast Asia conducting exercises with various navies and associated port visits.   He was posted to the staff at Fleet Headquarters (FHQ) in April 1988.  On 30 June 1988 Bonser was promoted commander and appointed as Commander Operations in FHQ.

Bonser served as chief staff officer to the RAN Task Group Commander (Commodore Don Chalmers), embarked in HMAS Brisbane, during the First Gulf War (October 1990 – May 1991) for which he was awarded a Commendation for Distinguished Service, in November 1991, for distinguished service as Commander Plans on the staff of the Commander Task Group 627.4 during the Gulf War.  He also received a Meritorious Unit Citation for his service in Brisbane.

Commander Bonser completed the Joint Service Staff Course, at Weston Creek, Canberra, in the second half of 1991.  He was then selected as the commanding officer of the frigate HMAS Sydney and took command in April 1992.  While in command the ship deployed to the Red Sea (Operation DAMASK VII), during June – December 1993, to enforce United Nations sanctions against Iraq and prevent the import of weaponry and munitions into Iraq and illegal exports.   Sydney conducted 179 boarding’s as well as several hundred interrogations of merchant vessels.  In late October 1993 the ships helicopter located a sinking merchant ship and directed a US destroyer to its location to render assistance.  Bonser was subsequently awarded a Conspicuous Service Cross (CSC) in the 1994 Queen’s Birthday honours list for conspicuous service to the Royal Australian Navy, particularly as commanding officer of HMAS Sydney while deployed in the Northern Red Sea in support of United Nations sanctions against Iraq. 

He was promoted acting captain in January 1994 and appointed as Chief Staff Officer Command, Control, Coordination and Information in Maritime Headquarters (formerly Fleet Headquarters).  Bonser was confirmed in the rank of captain in July that year.  In January 1996 Captain Bonser became the Director Combat Force Development (Sea) in Navy Office, Canberra.  After 18 months in this position he was selected for his next sea command and undertook command courses at HMAS Watson during July – October 1997. 

On 30 October 1997 he was appointed as commanding officer of the frigate HMAS Anzac based in Western Australia.  During his time in command the ship carried out exercises in Australian waters and also deploying to Asia for exercises with other navies (during September – December 1998).  Anzac conducted port visits to Guam, Japan, South Korea, China, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Indonesia while deployed.  Marcus Bonser relinquished command of Anzac on 25 July 1999 and was promoted commodore on 27 July 1999.    

He was then appointed as Commander North Command, based in Darwin, and reporting directly to Headquarters Australian Theatre (HQAST) in Sydney.  This was a very challenging command with the deployment and sustainment of the International Force East Timor (INTERFET) from Darwin during September 1999 – February 2000 and the subsequent support to the United Nations Transitional Administration East Timor also being heavily supported by Australia from the Forward Operating Base of Darwin.  In addition Bonser had to deal with the dramatic increase in illegal immigrants arriving in northern Australian waters by boat.  This required a significant increase in surveillance operations and interception of the vessels by RAN and other Australian Government vessels.

In January 2001 he joined the Defence Materiel Organisation as the Director General Command Support Systems but this was a short lived posting as on 30 July 2001 he was  promoted rear admiral and appointed as Director General Coast Watch (the forerunner of today’s Maritime Border Command).   Within weeks of taking up this position he was directly involved in dealing with hundreds of illegal immigrants who had been rescued, in the Indian Ocean south of Java, by the merchant ship Tampa and taken to Christmas Island.  This event saw rapid and dramatic changes to Australia’s immigration policy and the allocation of substantial Government assets to curb the influx of illegal immigrants attempting to reach Australia by boat. 

Bonser also had to deal with the many issues created by the sinking of a suspected illegal entry vessel (SIEV) on 19 October 2001 with the loss of over 350 lives.   Known as SIEV-X  the un-named Indonesian fishing vessel, with over 400 persons onboard departed the Indonesian port of Bandar Lumpang on the 18th and sank south of Java on the 19th, in International Waters but well inside Indonesia’s declared search and rescue region.  The exact location of the vessels sinking is still actively debated.  The loss of the vessel was not known until survivors were rescued by an Indonesian fishing boat on the 20th.   

This event was investigated by the Australian Government as ' A Certain Martime Incident' in early 2002.  The work undertaken by various Australian Government agencies in late 2001 to curb the influx of unlawful maritime arrivals was extremely effective with the number of arrivals in 2001 alone exceeding 5000 people, in 43 vessels, yet during 2002-2005 the numbers dropped to less than 100 people in four vessels.

In June 2002 Rear Admiral Bonser was appointed Commander Australian Theatre, based in Sydney, with control and oversight of ADF operations both in Australia and overseas; particularly in the Middle East Area of Operations.  ADF units and personnel had been deployed to the Middle East/Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks under the auspices of Operation SLIPPER.    In January 2003 additional units were deployed as part of Operation BASTILLE; in preparation for possible combat operations against Iraq.  March 2003 saw the commencement of Operation FALCONER and the ADF contribution to the larger United States led Operation IRAQI FREEDOM which lasted until combat operations ceased in July 2003.   ADF units remained in Iraq as part of Operation CATALYST until 2009 while Operation SLIPPER continued in the Arabian Gulf.     

In November 2003 Rear Admiral Bonser was appointed as an Officer in the Order of Australia (AO) for distinguished service to the Australian Defence Force as the Commander Australian Theatre in support of combat operations during Operation FALCONER.  Rear Admiral Bonser became the Commander of the Australian Defence College in May 2004 with responsibility for the training of personnel at the Australian Defence Force Academy, the Australian Command and Staff College and the Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies in Canberra.

His final appointment was in January 2006 as the Head of the Military Justice Implementation Team reporting directly to the Chief of the Defence Force.  Rear Admiral Mark Bonser retired from the RAN on 16 February 2008.   In retirement he has resided in Western Australia and in June 2016 was appointed to the Western Australian Veterans Advisory Council.