Stat 32 class tanker
Oil Tanker (Royal Australian Fleet Auxiliary)
International Callsign
Cammell Laird & Co Ltd, Birkenhead, England
24 July 1975
9 October 1989
16 September 2006
Dimensions & Displacement
Length 171 metres
Beam 26 metres
Draught 12.03 metres
Speed 16 knots
Crew 96
Capacity 25,000 tonnes of fuel, including several thousand tonnes of aviation fuel
Machinery Two Crossley-Peilstick 14 PC2-2 V400 diesel engines
Horsepower 14000
Guns 3 x .50 cal Browning machine guns
Helicopters Equipped with flight deck to conduct helo operations
Inherited Battle Honours
Battle Honours

HMAS Westralia was originally built in 1976 by Cammell Laird Shipbuilders in Birkenhead, United Kingdom, as the Stat 32 Class petroleum products tanker, Hudson Cavalier. In 1979 she was acquired by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) for use as a support oiler. Renamed RFA Appleleaf, she was modified for underway replenishment. Appleleaf deployed to the South Atlantic Ocean from 2 April to 14 June 1982 for active service in the Falklands War.

The Australian Government leased Appleleaf in 1989 for five years with the provision to purchase the vessel outright at the end of the lease term. On 9 October 1989, after completion of a refit at Humber Ship Repairers, England, she was commissioned as HMAS Westralia, under the command of Commander JS Moore, RAN.

RFA Appleleaf prior to being renamed HMAS Westralia
RFA Appleleaf in service with the Royal Navy.

Westralia arrived in Australian waters on 19 December 1989 and, on that day, HMAS Derwent became the first ship to conduct a Replenishment at Sea (RAS) with Westralia. The Army’s Special Air Service Regiment utilised Westralia as a training platform during Exercise ANCHOR CHAIN in January 1990 before the ship began preparations for her first Royal Australian Navy (RAN) deployment. An official renaming ceremony took place at HMAS Stirling on 12 March 1990, where the ship was officially renamed HMAS Westralia by Mrs Delys Gration, wife of the Chief of the Defence Force, General Peter Gration, AC, OBE.

Westralia's commissioning crew crossing the gangway
Westralia's commissioning crew march on board following formal proceedings.

Westralia departed Fleet Base West on 15 March 1990 for her first overseas deployment during which she visited Singapore, Hong Kong, Sattahip, Kelang, Penang, Kuantan and Jakarta, and conducted exercises with Australian, British, French, New Zealand, Malaysian and Singaporean ships. From 16 to 21 May, she participated in the Royal Malaysian Navy’s 55th Anniversary celebrations and International Royal Fleet Review, following which she also participated in the Five Power Defence Agreement Exercise PASSEX 90-1. From 22 June to 10 October she underwent a refit at Keppel Dockyard in Singapore before returning to HMAS Stirling on 23 October 1990 following a seven month deployment.

HMAS Westralia conducts her first RAS in the RAN with HMAS Derwent on 19 December 1989.
HMAS Westralia conducts her first RAS in the RAN with HMAS Derwent on 19 December 1989.

Countdown to war

On 18 July following a build up of diplomatic tension, the President of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, charged that neighbouring Kuwait had been stealing Iraq's oil and building military installations on Iraqi territory. The Iraqi armed forces consequently invaded Kuwait druing the early hours of 2 August, after a comprehensive breakdown of negotiations and Kuwait's refusal to capitulate to Hussein's demands. In the following days, as the Iraqi military took full control of Kuwait, world leaders became increasingly united in condeming this blatent annexation of a sovereign nation. The international response was unprecedented and immediate. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) called on Iraq to withdraw and when this request was ignoredd the passing of UNSC Resolution 661 established a complete economic embargo. Over 30 countries offered support to the United States-led build up of military forces in the region, which had been initiated under the title Operation DESERT SHIELD. On 25 August UNSC Resolution 665 called for states deploying maritime forces to enforce the embargo.

Australia was quick to respond to the crisis and on 10 August 1990 the then Prime Minister RJ Hawke announced his government's intention to commit two FFGs and a supply ship to a Multinational Naval Force (MNF) then assembling to enforce sactions.  Under the Australian codename Operation DAMASK, HMA Ships Adelaide, Darwin and Success were the first to deploy. Success was destined to remain on station until March 1991 but Adelaide and Darwin were relieved by HMA Ships Sydney and Brisbane in December 1990.

Gulf War I

The adoption of UNSC Resolution 678 saw the role of Australian warships expand to include the possibility of future military action against Iraq and consequenlty Westralia was placed on notice to prepare to deploy. A ‘role enhancement’ package was immediately implemented including the installation of an RBS70 self defence missile system, .50 calibre machine guns and a new flight deck aft of the superstructure enabling her to engage in Vertical Replenishment (VERTREP). She was also equipped for the carriage and transfer of naval and victualling stores.

Westralia's Commanding Officer Commander J.S Moore
Left: Westralia's captain Commander JS Moore, RAN. Right: Captain Moore with Prime Minister RJ Hawke, speaking with one of seven female members of Westralia's ship's company prior to deploying for the Persian Gulf.

On 2 January 1991 Westralia departed HMAS Stirling for the Arabian Gulf, arriving in the Middle East Area of Operations on Australia Day 1991, nine days after the commencement of military action by multi-national forces against Iraq. Seven women were included in her ship's company and in an operational first for the RAN, females were deployed overseas on frontline service.

Captain Moore (white overalls) with members of his bridge team closed up during operations in the Persian gulf. Petty Officer Signals Yeoman J Argoon appears in the foreground.

HMAS Brisbane making a replenishment approach on Westralia during Gulf War I.

Westralia’s deployment in the Arabian Gulf was busy and demanding. During her 120 day deployment she conducted 90 replenishments with naval units from Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Spain, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United  States. Westralia departed the Arabian Gulf on 25 May 1991 arriving home on 9 June.

Two of Westralia's junior sailors on their return to Australia following the conclusion of Gulf War 1.
Two of Westralia's junior sailors on their return to Australia following the conclusion of Gulf War I.
HMAS Westralia conducting a RAS with HMAS Tobruk in 1990.
HMAS Westralia conducting a RAS with HMAS Tobruk, circa 1990.

Westralia commenced a two month Assisted Maintenance Period on 11 June prior to deploying to the Far East on 26 August. Westralia, in company with HMAS Swan (III), arrived in Manila on 5 September and set about providing assistance to the inhabitants of the island of Luzon following the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in June. Medical teams treated displaced people living in appalling conditions in evacuation centres while other ships’ teams worked on repairs to the Olongapo City Hospital and Olongapo National High School. Later that month, Westralia participated in Exercise ADEX 91-4 with naval units from Singapore and Malaysia, and, in October, participated in Exercise NEW HORIZON with naval units from Indonesia. Upon returning to Australia, she participated in the Fleet Concentration Period off the east coast of Australia before arriving back at Stirling on 29 November.

Westralia operated Australian waters until May 1992, including participation in Exercise KANGAROO 92 in March. She once again deployed north, in company with Swan, on a four and a half month Asian deployment which took in eleven ports in nine countries and included participation in exercises AUSINA 2-92, STARFISH and AUSTHAI. The two ships’ crews were also able to see first hand how their efforts of the previous year had assisted the people of Luzon in the wake of the Mount Pinatubo eruption. Westralia arrived back at Stirling on 2 October. She was only alongside for a weekend, however, before departing once again to assist HMAS Canberra in preparations for the frigate’s Operation DAMASK deployment, and to participate in Exercise VALIANT USHER 92.

Westralia stern view circa 2006
Westralia in ballast during her service in the RAN.

Westralia commenced refit in Newcastle on 14 January 1993, emerging some 23 weeks later on 19 June. Following a brief operational visit to Auckland, she continued her work up in Australian waters and participated in the Fleet Concentration Period 93-2 during which Success and Westralia conducted the first consolidation Replenishment At Sea between two RAN tankers. On 16 September she deployed to Asian waters in company with HMA Ships Perth, Swan and Canberra, and conducted exercises with naval units from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and Japan. Westralia arrived back at Stirling on 2 December.

Westralia in company with her sister tanker HMAS Success and destroyer escorts Torrens (53) and Derwent (49) c.1994
Westralia in company with the fast underway replenishment ship HMAS Success and destroyer escorts Torrens (53) and Derwent (49), circa 1994.

Westralia again participated in the Fleet Concentration Period in east Australian waters in February 1994 before conducting two more Asian deployments during the year. She departed Stirling for South East Asian waters on 26 March participating in AUSINA 1-94, the Five Power Defence Agreement Exercise IADS 2-94 and Exercise LUMUTEX. She returned to Stirling on 4 June and participated in another Fleet Concentration Period, this time in West Australian waters, in August before departing for Asian waters on 29 August. There she participated in Exercises AUSTHAI and STARFISH, as well as the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Philippines. She returned to Stirling on 17 November.

Westralia circa. 1994
Westralia, circa 1994. Note the addition of the flight deck that was added in 1990.

A very busy year finished with Westralia as runner up for the Duke of Gloucester's Cup in the 1994 Fleet Awards. In addition, she was awarded the Afloat/Support Group Efficiency Award, and received special mentions for both hydrography (the Hydrographic Excellence Shield) and damage control and fire fighting (the Wormald Shield).

Westralia operated predominantly in Australian waters during 1995, including Exercise KAKADU in March, and Exercise KANGAROO in July/August. She also deployed to New Zealand in April to participate in Exercise TASMANEX. On 25 August, Westralia departed Australia for South East Asian waters, this time in company with HMAS Perth (II), and participated in Exercises STARFISH and MARITIME GUARD. She arrived back at Stirling on 13 November.

HMAS Westralia replenishing an RAN Destroyer.
HMAS Westralia replenishing the guided missile destroyer HMAS Hobart during routine exercises.

Westralia began a four month refit in Newcastle on 22 January 1996, emerging on 22 May. She participated in the Fleet Concentration Period that August before again deploying to South East Asia at the end of the month to participate in Exercise STARFISH, and returning to Darwin in October to participate in Exercise SINGAROO. She arrived back at Stirling on 24 October.

Commander A. Ladomirski and bridge staff, January 1996
Commander A Ladomirski and bridge staff, circa 1996.

In January 1997, Westralia assisted HMAS Adelaide in the rescue of solo around-the-world yachtsmen Thierry Dubois and Tony Bullimore when their respective vessels capsized in the Southern Ocean around 1350 nautical miles south-west of Fremantle. Westralia replenished Adelaide on 11 January enabling the frigate to affect a successful rescue.

HMAS Westralia in the Southern Ocean in company with an RAN Frigate. HMAS Westralia in the Southern Ocean in company with HMAS Adelaide
HMAS Westralia replenishes HMAS Adelaide in the Southern Ocean in a heavy swell.

Westralia departed Stirling for eastern Australian waters on 26 January 1997 for the Fleet Concentration Period in February, and Exercise TANDEM THRUST in March. At the beginning of April, she made her way north for yet another Asian deployment and participation in Exercise FLYING FISH. The deployment was made somewhat more interesting due to the presence of Typhoons Opal and Peter in Japanese and Korean waters. Westralia arrived back at Stirling on 14 June and began a maintenance and leave period. During October she provided logistical support to Operation DIRK, which involved illegal fisheries patrols in the Southern Ocean, before finishing the year participating in exercises in the West Australian Exercise Area.

A DDG takes on fuel while nested alongside Westralia at anchor.
A DDG takes on fuel while nested alongside Westralia at anchor.

In February 1998, Westralia was once again in the Southern Ocean supporting operations to apprehend illegal foreign fishing vessels in Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone. This was to be followed by a South East Asian deployment, however, during her departure from Fleet Base West on 5 May a major fire broke out in the tanker's main machinery space. The fire was serious and other RAN units in the area rushed to the assistance of the stricken vessel. In spite of the bravery displayed by her crew to combat the blaze, Midshipman Megan Pelly, Petty Officer Shaun Smith, Leading Seaman Bradley Meek and Able Seaman Phillip Carroll each lost their lives. The tragedy was deeply felt throughout the fleet, and those who lost their lives are remembered each year through annual commemoration services held at HMAS Stirling.

In the years since the Westralia tragedy annual commemoration services have been held at Fleet Base West to remember those killed and affected by the incident.

Westralia returned to HMAS Stirling and an official Board of Inquiry was convened. The badly damaged vessel was to remain alongside Fleet Base West throughout 1999 while repairs were effected.

Westralia front view from the bridge.
Westralia's RAS deck secured for heavy weather.

Following trials in December 1999, Westralia put to sea on 31 January 2000 to conduct a shakedown and Operational Readiness Evaluation. She departed West Australian waters for the fist time since her refit on 14 February for exercises in the East Australian Exercise Area and a brief visit to Hobart. She arrived back at Stirling on 13 March to prepare for a South East Asian deployment. The deployment was cancelled, however, due to ongoing fuel pump problems. Finally, on 24 July 2000, Westralia, in company with Canberra, took passage to Darwin to participate in Exercise NORTHERN ENCOUNTER and Fleet Concentration Period 2/00. She deployed to the South West Pacific in early October where she conducted her 1000th RAS as a commissioned RAN vessel. She returned to Australian waters in late November and exercised with combined Australian and United States naval vessels.

Westralia berthed at Newcastle on 5 February 2001 for a refit, emerging on 10 April to conduct harbour and sea acceptance trials. She departed Newcastle for Brisbane on 5 May to participate in Exercise TANDEM THRUST before arriving back in her home port at Stirling on 1 June. She departed on 16 July for Darwin and participation in Exercise KAKADU in the first week of August. She departed for a South East Asian deployment on 13 August, however, the deployment was cut short on 28 August when she was retasked in support of Operation RELEX to intercept and deter unauthorised arrivals in Australia’s north west approaches. She remained on RELEX duties intermittently until the end of the year.

In January 2002, Westralia sailed in company with HMAS Canberra in support of Operation SUTTON, which was initiated following a request by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority for RAN support in the arrest of an illegal foreign fishing vessel operating in the Southern Ocean. The vessels Lena and Volga were apprehended in Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone and six Spanish nationals were charged with poaching $A2.5 million worth of fish. Another 37 crew members from the two vessels were sent home.

Westralia conducting a RAS with an FFG
Westralia preparing to receive a guided missile frigate alongside.

On 7 March 2002, Westralia departed Stirling and, interspersed with Operation RELEX duties in the vicinity of Christmas Island, conducted a series of goodwill visits to South East Asian ports including Penang, Singapore and Phuket before arriving back at Stirling on 14 May. She underwent an Assisted Maintenance Period before putting to sea on 26 July for Operation RELEX duties, a four-day visit to Phuket at the end of August, and three weeks in Singapore undergoing maintenance in November. She arrived back at Stirling on 3 December.

On 13 January 2003 Westralia sailed for a logistics support deployment which would see her circumnavigate Australia, however, a catastrophic failure of a cylinder in her starboard main engine required the ship to return to Stirling for repairs. Westralia proceeded to sea again the following evening. Embarked were a number of Loggerhead Turtles from the Western Australian Aquarium for release south of Broome Harbour and an ABC film crew who were filming a segment for George Negus’ 'New Horizons' program. The ship continued on for Operation RELEX duties at the end of January, participation in Exercise TASMANEX in February, and hosting a number of homeless and itinerant youths to a tour and lunch on board in Adelaide as part of the ship’s ongoing commitment to the Lions Club International Charity. During the deployment, Westralia’s Marine Engineering Department was presented with the Australia Shield for Engineering Excellence.

Westralia arrived back at Stirling on 7 March for an Assisted Maintenance Period before deploying again  for Operation RELEX duties on 24 April. She was forced to return to Stirling in May, however, experiencing difficulties with her main engines which resulted in a main engine rebuild that kept her in port until June 2004. Members of the ship’s company took advantage of the time alongside by participating in a charity ride from Perth to Albany, and back to Rockingham in October and November. Ten cyclists, and their support team, cycled 1200 kilometres in seven days, raising over $13,000 in support of several charities, including the Malibu School for Children with Special Needs and the Lions Foundation for children’s mobility, cancer, sight and hearing research.

That November the Defence Capability Review was made public and confirmed that Westralia would be replaced by the acquisition of an environmentally sustainable oiler expected to be in service in 2006. Westralia put to sea on 7 June 2004 and proceeded to Brisbane for a programmed intermediate docking. She emerged in mid-July and proceeded north to take part in Exercise SINGAROO in August at the conclusion of which, she continued north into Asian waters where she participated in the Five Power Defence Agreement Exercise BERSAMA LIMA. In October Westralia participated in Exercise GOODWILL with the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force and participated in the commemoration activities for the 60th Anniversary of the Battle of Leyte Gulf. She returned to Stirling on 6 November 2004 after an absence of 5 months.

HMAS Westralia preparing to replenish HMA Ships Manoora and Anzac.
HMAS Westralia preparing to replenish HMA Ships Manoora and Anzac.

Westralia spent the first half of 2005 alternating between exercising in the West Australian Exercise Area and undergoing periodic maintenance at Stirling. On 23 May, Westralia departed Stirling for a busy deployment which included participation in Exercise TALISMAN SABRE in June and Exercise KAKADU in July/August in Australian waters before proceeding further north into Asian waters for Exercises DEEP SABRE in August and BERSAMA LIMA in September. She returned to Stirling on 9 October and entered a period of leave and maintenance.

On 23 January 2006, Westralia sailed for her final deployment during which she visited Sydney, Auckland, Wellington, Melbourne, Hobart and Adelaide, and participated in Exercises OCEAN PROTECTOR and TASMANEX in February. In March, Westralia participated in Operation ACOLYTE, the Australian Defence Force’s support operation for the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games. During this operation, on 24 March 2006, HMAS Warramunga had the honour of being Westralia’s last replenishment customer (RAS number 1269). Westralia returned home to Stirling for the last time on 6 April 2006.

Westralia flying her decomissioning pennant as she makes her way into Fleet Base West for the last time prior to decommissioning.

HMAS Westralia was decommissioned on 16 September 2006 after 17 years of RAN service. The ceremony included the Last Post, which was followed by a minute’s silence in memory of the lives lost aboard HMA Ships Westralia (I) and (II) in the course of their service. Since commissioning, Westralia (II) had steamed more than 457 908 nautical miles and transferred more than 400 million dollars worth of diesel. Following her decommissioning she was jointly acquired by the AGR and Helix Energy Solutions groups with the intention she be converted into a Floating Production, Storage and Offloading vessel.

Westralia's captain, Commander TG Crawford, RAN, and his crew march off the tanker for the last time marking the end of her service in the RAN.