Whyalla (II)

Fremantle Class Patrol Boat
International Callsign
Thrust Ahead
NQEA (Cairns)
3 July 1982
2 September 2005
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 250 tonnes
Length 42 metres
Beam 7 metres
Speed 24 knots
Crew 25
Horsepower 2 x 2240Kw MTU 16V538TB91 diesel enginges driving two shafts
  • 1 x AN4 Bofor 40/60mm gun
  • 2 x 50 calibre heavy machine guns
Inherited Battle Honours

HMAS Whyalla (II) commissioned at Cairns on 3 July 1982, the sixth of fifteen Fremantle Class Patrol Boats built for the Royal Australian Navy between 1980 and 1984. The commissioning ceremony was attended by 110 dignitaries and guests. She sailed as a commissioned vessel for the first time on 17 July 1982, her first task to transfer a detachment from Clearance Diving Team One to Carter Reef to dispose of a British Mk 14 mine, a potent reminder of Australia's World War II defensive minelaying operations in the Great Barrier Reef.

Whyalla remained in the Cairns area until 20 August when she sailed to Sydney which was to be her home port.

After a short stay Whyalla proceeded to conduct an inaugural visit to her namesake city in South Australia where the ship’s company was granted Freedom of Entry. During the return passage a rendezvous was made with the Victorian Public Works Department maintenance vessel SS Rip, the former World War II Bathurst class minesweeper HMAS Whyalla.

Whyalla’s first patrol was in the Bass Strait area in mid-September 1982 and the following month she was tasked to support the Australian Broadcasting Commission, which was then filming the second season of the television series Patrol Boat. Her first Christmas was spent at sea on patrol in Bass Strait.

Top left: HMAS Whyalla (II) in the early stages of construction. Top right: Whyalla with her sister ships to her left, Townsville and Wollongong. Below: Whyalla nearing completion 1982.
Left: Booklet from the commissioning ceremony of Whyalla. Whyalla was commissioned on 3 July 1982 at No. 2 Wharf, Ports of Cairns, Qld. Right: Whyalla’s cap tally.
Left: Booklet from the commissioning ceremony of HMAS Whyalla (II). Whyalla was commissioned on 3 July 1982 at No 2 Wharf, Ports of Cairns, Qld. Right: Whyalla’s cap tally.
Whyalla departing Sydney, circa 1982.
HMAS Whyalla (II) departing Sydney, circa 1982.
HMAS Whyalla (II) securing alongside between patrols during the 1980s.

In early 1983 Whyalla continued to support the production of Patrol Boat and participated in both the Fleet Concentration Period and Exercise SEA EAGLE 83 before resuming patrol operations. On 19 March 1983 Whyalla stood by the heavily listing drill ship Diamond M Epoch in Bass Strait. The crew of the drill ship was airlifted to safety and the vessel eventually righted. Patrol duty, often conducted in the marginal weather conditions typical of Bass Strait, kept Whyalla occupied until May 1983.

Whyalla was a familiar sight in Sydney which was her home port in the early 1980s.
HMAS Whyalla (II) was a familiar sight in Sydney which was her home port in the early 1980s.

In June 1983 she departed Australian waters on her first overseas deployment, to the South West Pacific, accompanied by her sister ship HMAS Launceston. During the first leg Whyalla sighted the Taiwanese fishing vessel Jin Rueen on 23 June. The vessel was boarded and became Whyalla’s first ‘catch’ on 23 June. The Master of the Jin Rueen was prosecuted in August and convicted of breaching Australia’s fisheries protection legislation. The successful deployment through the South West Pacific included visits to Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Kiribati, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. A number of high profile guests attended receptions on board Whyalla, including the Crown Prince of Tonga and the Presidents of Kiribati, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.

Fisheries surveillance operations resumed in late September 1983, punctuated by a port visit to the city of Whyalla, a close encounter with over 100 pilot whales and dolphins that swam in company with the boat, and a transit exercise with the HMS Invincible Task Group. On 4 December Whyalla assumed duties as the Scene of Action Commander off Golden Beach, near Sale in Victoria, when a RAN Wessex helicopter from 723 Squadron ditched into the sea, killing two personnel. Six survivors were rescued by an Esso company helicopter. It was the first fatal incident involving a RAN Wessex since their introduction in 1962. The bodies of the deceased were recovered on board Whyalla that evening and the wreckage was salvaged over the following two days with the assistance of the rig tender Flinders Tide.

The recovered Wessex as seen from Whyalla.
The recovered Wessex as seen from HMAS Whyalla (II).

At the beginning of 1984 Whyalla was en route to Cairns for her first intermediate docking. She returned to Sydney in February and participated in Exercise SEA EAGLE 84 off the Australian east coast in March. Although largely uneventful, surveillance patrols mid year took in the outlying territories of Norfolk and Lord Howe Islands.

In August 1984 Whyalla conducted an unsuccessful search off the New South Wales south coast for a five metre runabout and its four occupants. The highlight for September was participation in a Fleet Concentration Period that culminated in a ceremonial fleet entry to Melbourne that served as a precursor to Navy Week celebrations in the Victorian capital.

On 8 December 1984 Whyalla was at sea in Bass Strait when a fire broke out in the auxiliary machinery room. The fire was extinguished within ten minutes but by then damage had been sustained to the starboard diesel generator, evaporator, starboard auxiliary power unit and communications equipment. The aft magazine was consequently flooded as a sensible precautionary measure.

The sea conditions in Bass Strait could at times make life very uncomfortable for patrol boat crews engaged in Bass Strait Oil Rig Support (BSORS) patrols.
The sea conditions in Bass Strait could at times make life very uncomfortable for patrol boat crews engaged in Bass Strait Oil Rig Support (BSORS) patrols.

Whyalla departed Sydney on 8 January 1985 to proceed to Cairns for her first refit at the North Queensland Engineers and Agents Dockyard. The refit officially concluded on 4 May 1985. The post refit sea acceptance trials and workup period were interrupted on 28 May when Whyalla and HMAS Dubbo searched for an unidentified vessel aground on Opal Reef, north of Cairns. The distress call to which they responded was later assessed by the authorities as a hoax.

Whyalla spent much of the latter half of 1985 policing the exclusion zone around the Bass Strait oil rigs, undertaking four surveillance patrols over a five month period. The patrol boat later visited Norfolk Island on 9 September and was able to take advantage of rare in company exercises during the Fleet Concentration Period and Exercise CORAL SEA 85. Her final duty for 1985 was to act as the start vessel for the 41st Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.

Bass Strait oil rig surveillance patrols recommenced in mid-January 1986, keeping Whyalla busy until late June. However, this did not mean that the time passed uneventfully. Whyalla detached in February to spend one month visiting South Australian ports; and in company with HMAS Aware, she represented the RAN at the state’s 150th Jubilee Celebrations. There she performed the role of the official start vessesl for Two Gulf Yacht Races. Whyalla also went to the aid of two yachts, one of which was towed across the finish line, much to the amusement of spectators.

On 11 February 1986 Whyalla was directed to search for the Japanese longliner Daito Maru 18 and five other tuna boats, suspected by the Department of Primary Industries of contravening southern bluefin tuna quotas. Daito Maru 18 was located, boarded and apprehended on 14 February. The remaining vessels were boarded two days later. The incident led the company that had chartered Daito Maru 18 to seek a Supreme Court injunction to prevent the fisheries service from enforcing the arrest. The company also vented its anger against the Federal Government, contending that the use of defence force assets amounted to ‘uncivilised, barbaric piracy’.

In the second quarter of 1986, Whyalla supported RAN 75th Anniversary activities, placed a creditable second to her sister ship HMAS Townsville in the Great Patrol Boat Race, and clocked up 100,000 nautical miles, two months shy of her third birthday.

Whyalla in formation with her sister Fremantle class 'boats'.
HMAS Whyalla (II) in formation with her sister Fremantle Class 'boats'.

The ship’s company proceeded on leave mid-year before sailing to Cairns, via the Whitsunday Islands, for maintenance and intermediate docking. Trialing repitched propellers the command team was dismayed to find that dockyard staff had secured the propellers to the wrong shafts. With propellers correctly positioned, Whyalla returned to southern waters in October, visited the city of Whyalla for a Freedom of Entry parade in November, and supported the Burnie Regatta in Tasmania in December.

Whyalla returned to the familiar waters of Bass Strait in January and February 1987. The prevailing weather conditions often hampered surveillance operations and forced the patrol boat to seek shelter in south coast ports. In March 1987 Whyalla deployed in company with HMAS Geelong on a good will visit to Vanuatu. She returned to Victorian and South Australian waters in April and early May. On 20 May 1987, Whyalla was midway through a workup with Dubbo when both boats were directed to return to Sydney to transfer spares and equipment to other patrol boats deploying on Operation MORRIS DANCE, a contingency operation brought about by a military coup in Fiji.

Whyalla sailed on patrol east of Sydney in early July and paid visits to Norfolk Island, Auckland in New Zealand, and Lord Howe Island. En route to Newcastle she was diverted to aid the yacht Heather Marie which had lost its mainsail in the vicinity of Norfolk Island. Whyalla evacuated an ill crew member and towed the disabled yacht into Cascade Bay.

At the close of a leave and maintenance period in September 1987, Whyalla was placed at four hours notice for sea and stood by to respond to a further deteriorating political situation in Fiji. Tensions subsequently eased and Whyalla sailed as planned on 6 October for a South West Pacific deployment in company with Geelong. As well as visiting New Zealand and Vanuatu, the two patrol boats had an extended stay in Samoa. A defect in Whyalla’s starboard diesel alternator made the ship uninhabitable, so her crew enjoyed an extended stay ashore in the capital, Apia. When Whyalla returned to Sydney in November, preparations began for an impending change of home port to Cairns.

On 4 January 1988 Whyalla sailed from HMAS Waterhen for the last time as a Sydney based patrol boat. Having arrived in her new home port of Cairns on 11 January, Whyalla was presented with a marlin funnel insignia to proudly indicate her status as a Cairns based fleet unit. Whyalla went into refit and with the post refit workup completed, departed Cairns on 26 April for a two month anticlockwise circumnavigation of Australia. The deployment encompassed Whyalla’s first visit to Darwin and several west coast ports including HMAS Stirling.

Whyalla leaving Sydney for operations in northern waters.
HMAS Whyalla (II) leaving Sydney for operations in northern waters.

Whyalla reverted to her primary coastal surveillance role for the three months from July 1988, supporting quarantine and wildlife inspections of outlying reefs. She encountered Jacque Costeau’s research yacht Alcyone and also gained certification to receive helicopter transfers. On 3 August Whyalla transferred a damage control party to the fishing vessel Moon Dancer which was taking water and sinking off Cape Cleveland. The party successfully stemmed the flood and effected repairs before Moon Dancer was then towed to Townsville by another trawler. Later in the month Whyalla acted as the start vessel for the Cairns to Darwin leg of the Bicentennial Yacht Race. A rare opportunity arose on 19 September 1988 for a passage exercise with HM Ships Ark Royal and Edinburgh. Eight lucky crew members accepted an opportunity to transfer to the aircraft carrier for the day. During October, Admiral JW Crowe Jnr USN, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, embarked for a sea day.

Two brief overseas deployments completed Whyalla’s commitments in Australia’s bicentennial year. During the first deployment she accompanied HMAS Gawler and the Australian built Pacific class patrol boat RSIVP Lata to the Solomon Islands. The two Australian patrol boats then conducted what is believed to be the first RAN visit to Asau on the Samoan island of Savaii. During the second deployment, in mid-December, Whyalla escorted another Pacific class patrol boat, HMPNGS Seeadler, to Port Moresby.

The opening months of 1989 were not without incident. On 1 April 1989 the ship grounded off Hamilton Island prior to the start of the island’s annual yacht racing carnival, necessitating a two week stay in dockyard hands to repair both propellers. Returning to sea later in April, two exhausted fisherman clinging desperately to their capsized catamaran were fortunate to be spotted by Whyalla’s crew and rescued from their predicament.

In May Whyalla was directed to support Operation FOLK, a combined RAN, Coastwatch, Customs and Fisheries operation in the vicinity of Norfolk Island. However, poor weather conditions limited her participation to an investigation of outlying reefs. In August Whyalla ‘defected’ to the fictitious country of Kamaria for Exercise KANGAROO 89.

Whyalla deployed to Papua New Guinea in September 1989 later joining HMA Ships Dubbo and Betano for Exercise PARADISE 89. The exercise concluded with a fleet entry into Simpson Harbour, Rabaul, on 6 October, and a Papua New Guinea Defence Force Freedom of Entry parade. Routine maintenance and a four week patrol ended the year for Whyalla.

HMAS Whyalla at sea.
HMAS Whyalla (II) at sea.

The post Christmas leave period at the beginning of 1990 was interrupted when Whyalla was placed on standby to support Operation DEFERENCE, a contingency plan to evacuate Australian nationals in Bougainville. Whyalla was later stood down before deploying to New Zealand for participation in a Fleet Concentration Period. She continued to Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, returning to Cairns in March 1990 having steamed her 200,000th nautical mile in April.

Surveillance patrols and exercises in North Queensland waters kept Whyalla busy until 21 July 1990 when she commenced her second overseas deployment for the year, to represent Australia at the 25th Anniversary of independence of the Cook Islands. The Cook Islands Government utilised the services of Whyalla to patrol the Exclusive Economic Zone and help the Cook Islands patrol boat Te Kukupa seize two Taiwanese fishing vessels. Visits to Niue, Samoa, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands rounded out the deployment.

Whyalla’s final patrol of 1990 was disrupted by the unwelcome presence of Cyclone Joy, which threatened to derail Christmas celebrations. Whyalla initially sheltered at Thursday Island before accompanying seven other Cairns based fleet units on a cautious passage south to an anchorage in the lee of Cape Flattery on 23 December. Conditions sufficiently abated to allow all ships to return to Cairns on Christmas Day.

During the first five months of 1991, Whyalla settled into a routine patrol pattern off north Queensland, with little result to show for the efforts of the ship’s company. One such patrol saw Whyalla sail at short notice from Cairns on 16 March 1991, as there had been a marked increase in foreign fishing activity and apprehensions. A tedious 18-day patrol followed, of which 248 hours were spent slowly steaming on the auxiliary power unit. Such was the monotony of the patrol that only one foreign fishing vessel was sighted. In a bid to maintain morale the crew devised a varied array of activities to pass the time, including a mini olympics, kite flying and Easter egg hunt. In his Report of Proceedings the Commanding Officer observed that the most enjoyable occupation was the regular disappearance of the Navigator’s brew mug which was eventually hanged at the yardarm, much to the amusement of all but one. It was with some relief that Whyalla arrived in Darwin for a week of in company exercises with her Darwin based sister ships.

HMAS Whyalla's crew, circa 1991.

Whyalla sailed from Cairns on 24 May 1991 to escort the patrol boat Voea Savea on her maiden voyage to Tonga. Whyalla then proceeded to Vanuatu via the Solomon Islands before returning home. Poor weather and sea conditions beset the patrol boat throughout the deployment leading to the cancellation of the final legs to Tonga and New Caledonia. Whyalla returned to the South Pacific in August, this time reaching Tonga for exercises with the Tongan patrol boat force. Consort duty and participation in a Task Unit Exercise (TUEX) staged from Cairns saw out the year for Whyalla.

The first significant event for 1992 was a two month refit at North Queensland Engineers and Agents. The post refit workup completed in mid-May 1992, shortly before Whyalla exercised with 51 Far North Queensland Regiment in the Torres Strait. A fisheries patrol in June was curtailed when Whyalla was directed to Hervey Bay in July to support celebrations marking the 50th Anniversary of the formation of ‘Z’ Special Force. Later in July she lent support to an Australian Federal Police operation by shadowing a vessel suspected of smuggling narcotics.

Having celebrated her 10th birthday, Whyalla departed Australian waters in August 1992 on her first South East Asian deployment, in company with HMAS Wollongong. The patrol boats visited ports in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. The highlight of the deployment was joining over 30 warships from four nations in the South China Sea for Exercise STARFISH in September.

Left: Light line transfers at sea and close quarters manoeuvring were a routine evolution for patrol boat crews. Right: The Fremantle class patrol boats played an important role in fullfilling the RAN's boarder protection responsibilities.
Left: Light line transfers at sea and close quarters manoeuvring were a routine evolution for patrol boat crews. Right: The Fremantle Class Patrol Boats played an important role in fullfilling the RAN's boarder protection responsibilities.

In the last two months of the year Whyalla embarked clearance divers to dispose of two World War II mines located south of the Lockhart River before participtating in another Carins based TUEX.

1993 began with the apprehension of three fishing vessels from Papua New Guinea, illegally harvesting sedentary marine organisms on Warrior Reef. The rest of the year was spent mostly in home waters, except for the annual Gull Force Association Anzac Day pilgrimage to Ambon.

On 6 July 1993 Whyalla crash sailed from Cairns to provide logistic support to an Australian Federal Police and Australian Customs Service operation to intercept and investigate an Australian registered fishing vessel. The vessel was allowed to proceed after an investigative boarding was conducted by Police and Customs officers. In August Whyalla participated in Exercise JUPITER DAWN with Australian Army personnel. The latter months of 1993 were spent conducting routine surveillance operations, highlighted by the apprehension of a Taiwanese Gill Netter on 6 December. Whyalla was honoured in the 1993 Fleet Awards, winning the NQEA Sword for excellence in patrol boat engineering.

All Cairns based patrol boats put to sea on New Year’s Day 1994 to seek shelter from Cyclone Rewa. Having completed an interrupted post Christmas maintenance period, Whyalla sailed on 10 January 1994 for a seven week patrol of eastern and southern waters, her old stamping ground. The patrol allowed Whyalla to visit Sydney for the first time in six years.

The then Chief of Naval Staff, VADM RG Taylor, AO, RAN, visiting HMAS Whyalla (II) while in refit. The work load placed upon the Fremantle Class necessitated a carefully planned program of regular maintenance.

A mid year docking period was squeezed in between two short overseas deployments. In March Whyalla escorted RKS Teanoai on her maiden voyage to Kiribati. Four months later she accompanied RFNS Kula to Fiji, bringing to five the number of Australian built Pacific class patrol boats that Whyalla had the honour of escorting on delivery voyages to their respective nations. The second deployment was immediately followed by the inaugural Minor War Vessel Concentration Period, in which nine patrol boats exercised in Torres Strait. A well earned leave period preceded the final patrol for the year.

Whyalla conducted routine operations in January and February 1995 before joining Exercise KAKADU II in March and then undertaking a short deployment to Indonesia and Malaysia in May. Whyalla returned to Indonesia in July 1995 with Gawler for Exercise CASUEX 95.

Continuing what had already been a busy year, Whyalla deployed to South East Asia in August for the third time in five months.  Whyalla and HMA Ships Darwin, Torrens and Wollongong represented the RAN at Indonesia’s 50th Anniversary of independence celebrations and International Fleet Review.  Following a high profile and hectic six-day visit to Jakarta, Whyalla became the first RAN warship to visit Tanjung Uban on the island of Bintan, before proceeding to Puerto Princesa in the Philippines, Sandakan, Tarakan (believed to be the first visit by an Australian warship since 1945) and Bitung.

The presence of Cyclone Barrie and a fuel tank defect curtailed operations in January 1996. The following month Whyalla berthed alongside HMAS Cerberus for three weeks service as a static technical training platform. In May 1996 Whyalla began a three month Operational Life Extension refit at the North Queensland Engineers and Agents facility in Cairns. The refit provided an opportunity for the RAN to trial a new colour scheme. Accordingly Whyalla was painted a distinctly lighter shade of grey which was designed to improve her camouflage properties.

Although the post refit maintenance, trials and workup were completed in September 1996, a requirement to undergo unscheduled engineering maintenance combined with the unexpected discovery of cracked baffle plates in the starboard main engine meant that almost the whole of October was spent alongside.

Whyalla returned to sea on 30 October 1996 in company with Townsville for a five week South West Pacific deployment. The first port of call was Rabaul, where the two ships' companies saw first hand the devastation caused by the dual volcanic eruptions of Mount Tavurvur and Mount Vulcan on 19 September 1994. As the eruptions dramatically changed the topography of the surrounding landscape, bottom soundings of Simpson Harbour were taken on behalf of the RAN Hydrographic Office. Visits were also paid to the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu and New Caledonia.

Whyalla on patrol in northern Australian waters.
HMAS Whyalla (II) on patrol in northern Australian waters.

A refreshed crew sailed on 20 January 1997 to find that Whyalla could only achieve a disconcertingly slow top speed of 13 knots. The removal of marine growth only gave a marginal improvement in performance. Further investigations on the Darwin Naval Base slipway revealed the cause to be misaligned rudders, drooped stabilisers and a large amount of additional marine growth.

When Cyclone Justin threatened north Queensland in March 1997, Whyalla was ordered to sail twice in eight days to avoid the cyclone. Later that month while on patrol Whyalla confronted an Indonesian fishing vessel that attempted to ram her. In April 1997 eight patrol boats exercised during the Minor War Vessel Concentration Period off Darwin - Whyalla won the coveted MWVCP Shield as the most proficient patrol boat. During quarantine inspections off the far north Queensland coast in late May, a distress call was received from the yacht Vision which had run aground on MacGillivray Reef. With light fading rapidly the yacht was successful pulled clear of the reef. The apprehension of one fishing vessel, after the firing of warning shots, brought operations for the first half of 1997 to a close and a welcome break alongside for the ship’s company. 

The reduced activity period ended when Whyalla departed for southern waters on 11 August 1997. The first task was to install a new Compact Lightweight Armoured Weapon Station and conduct a series of associated trials off the Australian east coast. The equipment was removed in Sydney and Whyalla continued south to Westernport to again support technical training at Cerberus.  Having completed her training commitments, Whyalla proceeded to Adelaide and then to the city of Whyalla for a busy four day visit.  The ship’s company exercised their right of Freedom of Entry for the first time since November 1986 and the opportunity was also taken to tour HMAS Whyalla (I), now preserved as a museum ship.

Whyalla concluded a successful year on a high. She shadowed a Chinese refugee vessel out of Australian waters on its way to New Caledonia, netted six foreign fishing vessels, won the Patrol Boat Force Element Group award for the most outstanding contribution to patrol boat operations, and was runner-up for the Kelly Shield, awarded annually to the most efficient patrol boat.

Deteriorating weather and marginal sea states whipped up by Cyclones Sid, Les and Tiffany disrupted operations for most of January 1998. Although one fishing vessel was apprehended, a hot pursuit of another had to be called off in heavy seas. On 16 March 1998 Whyalla sailed in company with HMAS Fremantle for the South West Pacific. The busy two month deployment took in the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Samoa, the Cook Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. The patrol boats also delivered disaster relief provisions to the island of Tanna which had been struck by Cyclone Yali a few weeks earlier.

HMAS Whyalla at anchor.
HMAS Whyalla (II) at anchor.

Participation in Exercise TASMAN LINK, an emergency docking, workup consort duty for the Sydney based HMAS Warrnambool and a leave and maintenance period consumed the months of May through September 1998. The year ended very much as it began as Whyalla was forced to seek shelter from Cyclone Thelma before returning home to Cairns.

1999 was a year of mixed fortunes for Whyalla. The year started well with the apprehension of a foreign fishing vessel in late January, however, this was tempered by an unusually high number of defects that required two weeks unscheduled maintenance in Darwin and the whole of March alongside Cairns for an engine change out.Whyalla returned to patrol in April and completed a successful Minor War Vessel Concentration Period in the first week of May. En route back to Cairns, two sailors were landed at Thursday Island after contracting chicken pox.

The unexpected discovery of numerous hull and structural defects during a routine maintenance period kept Whyalla confined to Cairns from May to September 1999 and forced the cancellation of a planned overseas deployment. What had been a frustrating year ended on a positive note when Whyalla detained a Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel (SIEV) with 24 Afghans on board on 19 November. Four days later she apprehended two Indonesian fishing vessels. Both vessels were assessed as unseaworthy and not surprisingly sank under tow. In December Whyalla escorted another SIEV to Ashmore Reef before transferring both its occupants and those from another two SIEVs to Darwin for processing by Immigration authorities.

The first six months of 2000 were taken up with fisheries surveillance and SIEV operations. On 10 January 2000 a large group of foreign nationals, who had landed at Ashmore Reef, were embarked in Whyalla, Wollongong and the Australian Customs Vessel (ACV) Botany Bay for transfer to Darwin. Whyalla supported a similar operation in June when a further 28 people were embarked at Ashmore Reef. In her fisheries surveillance role, Whyalla apprehended Indonesian fishing vessels in March and May.

Whyalla was slipped at the North Queensland Engineers and Agents facility in Cairns between July and September 2000 for extended maintenance. Sea acceptance trials in October identified a number of further engineering defects that necessitated another month alongside, before the crew worked up into December, keen to return to operations in the new year.

After a quiet start to the year, Whyalla and Gawler proceeded to Vanuatu in February 2001, the first of six south pacific countries visited within a period of 24 days. The other countries visited were Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and Papua New Guinea. Two illegal fishing vessels were seized in March, and on this occasion the boarding party was required to subdue one ship’s master who had threatened self harm. Later in March Whyalla anchored off Sweers Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria and the ship’s company paraded for the dedication of a memorial to Matthew Flinders. Flinders named the island when he visited in HMS Investigator in November 1802.

HMAS Whyalla.
HMAS Whyalla (II).

The events of August and September 2001 brought about a significant change of operational focus for the RAN and in particular the patrol boat force.Whyalla was en route to Sydney to attend the Centenary Naval Review when it was cancelled in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September. She was subsequently despatched to Darwin and reassigned to Operation RELEX, the whole-of-government effort to deter unauthorised arrivals by sea in Australia's north-west approaches, instituted after the arrival of the MV Tampa off Christmas Island.

Whyalla arrived on station in the Ashmore Reef area on 7 October for border protection operations. During the following fortnight Whyalla was engaged in holding and interception operations in connection with SIEVs 05 and 07. She then departed Ashmore Reef to assist Dubbo and ACV Arnhem Bay tow six 48-metre Chinese stern trawlers, of approximately 350 to 400 tons displacement each, on a five day voyage from north of Cape Wessel to Darwin, a distance of 450 nautical miles.Whyalla towed three - the tow length was 700 yards and at over 1000 tonnes is believed to be the heaviest single tow undertaken by a Fremantle class patrol boat.

In the annual Fleet Awards Whyalla collected her second NQEA Sword of Excellence for patrol boat engineering.

Like her sister ships, Whyalla remained committed to Operations RELEX and CRANBERRY (fisheries surveillance) throughout much of 2002 and in doing so made a valuable contribution to the security of Australia's northern maritime boundary. Although no SIEVs arrived on Whyalla's 'watch', the patrol boat effected several fishing vessel apprehensions in addition to numerous administrative seizures.

With a busy year of patrol duty behind them, the ship's company welcomed a change of scenery in October 2002 when they visited Cebu in the Philippines as part of a five week deployment in company with Dubbo. The changing security environment was very much evident in Cebu where both ships enjoyed something akin to VIP status; armed escorts were provided, wharf sentries posted and the Philippines Navy patrolled to seaward of the Mactan naval base. Exercise LUMBAS was conducted off Cebu in late October before Whyalla continued the deployment to Palau, Micronesia and Papua New Guinea.

Prior to the commencement of Exercise PARADISE at Manus Island, Whyalla paid a visit to Rabaul. It was enlivened by regular eruptions from nearby Mount Tavurvur and Whyalla was unfortunate to be berthed downwind and under the constant ash fallout from the rumbling volcano. Up to five millimetres of volcanic ash was deposited on the upper decks each day and despite their best efforts, the crew were unable to prevent the ash from entering the internal spaces. All were relieved to return to sea after three torturous days, albeit in what the Commanding Officer described as "...the most appallingly filthy RAN ship I have ever witnessed".

HMAS Whyalla (II) puts to sea in the wake of the volcanic eruptions at Rabaul - the location of the RAN's first joint operation conducted in 1914.

Whyalla resumed Operation RELEX duty in January 2003 at Ashmore Reef and in the Tiwi Islands. The rewarding patrol netted five foreign fishing vessels in the Tiwi Islands in February. The second Operation RELEX patrol for 2003 was undertaken in April during which another fishing vessel was detained. Back home in Cairns, Whyalla celebrated her 21st birthday with an anniversary ball at the Sofitel Reef Casino on 3 July 2003.

The third patrol of the year was cut short on 16 July when Whyalla was directed to return to Cairns and prepare to deploy to the Solomon Islands for Operation ANODE (aka Operation HELPEM FREN). Following a breakdown in law and order in the troubled nation, the Australian Government agreed to spearhead a multinational Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI). The RAN’s immediate contribution to Operation ANODE was a naval task group (TG 636.1) comprising HMA Ships Manoora, Whyalla, Labuan, Wewak and Hawkesbury.

HMAS Whyalla (II) manoeuvres astern of Manoora. In the foreground a Sea King helicopter is ranged on the flight deck, 29 July 2003. (LS David Connolly)

Whyalla departed Cairns on 24 July 2003 in company with Labuan and Wewak arriving on station two days later after a rough passage across the Coral Sea.

Whyalla made an invaluable contribution to RAMSI. She preformed a variety of tasks including weapons amnesty collections, island visits to promote RAMSI, maritime surveillance and interdiction operations and a boarding of a suspected weapons smuggler on 29 August. In August over 400 weapons were collected on San Christobal Island and disposed of at sea, the single largest collection by any force during the 2003 weapons amnesty. Whyalla was relieved on station by HMAS Ipswich on 1 September and outchopped from the area of operations the following day.

Border protection operations resumed in October 2003. On 27 November Whyalla hosted an official visit by a high level Chinese naval delegation. Cyclone Debbie disrupted the final patrol of the year and Whyalla sheltered at East Montalivet Island for one and a half weeks, including Christmas Day.

Whyalla undertook another two routine surveillance patrols in support of Operations RELEX and CRANBERRY in the first half of 2004. The highlight was her involvement in Operation SHARKFIN in May. Whyalla seized four of the nine vessels caught illegally fishing in a blitz on foreign fishermen operating in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

In April 2004, the Chief of Navy released the decommissioning schedule for the 15-strong Fremantle Class patrol boat fleet - Whyalla was originally destined to pay off in November 2004. However, in light of national civil surveillance commitments, maintenance requirements, future operational demands and the planned transition to the newly constructed Armidale class patrol boats, the revised schedule extended Whyalla's commission to August 2005.

Whyalla flying her decommissioning pennant as she steams into Cairns for the last time.
HMAS Whyalla (II) flying her decommissioning pennant as she steams into Cairns for the last time.

Whyalla departed Cairns on her final overseas deployment on 28 June 2004. Over the following six weeks she visited Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Samoa, the Cook Islands, Tonga and Fiji. The remainder of 2004 was spent on patrol in Australia's northern waters. Whyalla was at sea on 2 December 2004, in a position north of Ashmore Reef, her boarding party just completing an administrative seizure of an Indonesian Type II fishing vessel, when a signal was received from Maritime Headquarters advising that Whyalla had won the Kelly Shield as the most efficient patrol boat for 2004. It was a fitting reward after 22 years service to the nation.

Whyalla's colours were lowered for the final time on 2 September 2005 when she decommissioned at HMAS Cairns. In a farewell message to the ship, the Chief of Navy said:

The decommissioning today of HMAS Whyalla is a milestone in the remarkably successful era of the Fremantle class patrol boats.  All those who have served in Whyalla over the years are to be congratulated for the manner in which they have enabled the ship to serve so well in the front line of the nation's security forces.

Left: HMAS Whyalla's decommissioning ceremony was conducted at Cairns Navy Base. The Commanding Officer HMAS Whyalla addresses the crew and Guests invited to the decommissioning. Right: Commanding Officer HMAS Whyalla hands over the Australian White Ensign to Maritime Commander Davyd Thomas. (AB Justin Brown)

In her 23-year career, Whyalla steamed 617,593 nautical miles, made 24 overseas deployments and visited 20 different countries.

Decommissioning crew of HMAS Whyalla (II).
Decommissioning crew of HMAS Whyalla (II).

Commanding Officers of HMAS Whyalla (II)

03 Jul 1982-19 Aug 1983 Lieutenant Commander AJ Tipping RAN
19 Aug 1983-12 Apr 1985 Lieutenant Commander CM Read RAN
12 Apr 1985-04 Jun 1986 Lieutenant Commander GV Ryan RAN
04 Jun 1986-26 Jun 1986 Lieutenant Commander CJ Ellis RAN
26 Jun 1986-12 Sep 1986 Lieutenant Commander GV Ryan RAN
12 Sep 1986-11 Jan 1988 Lieutenant Commander JCA Gerlach RAN
11 Jan 1988-15 Mar 1988 Lieutenant AD Vidler RAN
15 Mar 1988-01 Sep 1989 Lieutenant Commander JA Fallon RAN
01 Sep 1989-12 Apr 1991 Lieutenant Commander BF Vandepeer RAN
13 Apr 1991-19 Aug 1991 Lieutenant Commander JW Purnell-Webb RAN
19 Aug 1991-02 Sep 1991 Lieutenant TJ Larkin RAN
02 Sep 1991-30 Apr 1993 Lieutenant Commander JW Purnell-Webb RAN
01 May 1993-11 Apr 1995 Lieutenant Commander WE Eversham RAN
11 Apr 1995-05 Nov 1996 Lieutenant Commander GD Uren RAN
05 Nov 1996-23 Oct 1998 Lieutenant Commander MJ Parsons RAN
23 Oct 1998-15 May 2000 Lieutenant Commander MJ Stone RAN
15 May 2000-31 May 2000 Lieutenant Commander SC O’Brien RAN
31 May 2000-14 Jun 2000 Lieutenant Commander MJ Stone RAN
14 Jun 2000-03 Dec 2001 Lieutenant Commander SC O'Brien RAN
03 Dec 2001-07 Oct 2002 Lieutenant Commander MA Leach RAN
07 Oct 2002-04 Dec 2002 Lieutenant Commander PJ Kraus RANR
04 Dec 2002-23 Jun 2003 Lieutenant Commander MA Leach RAN
23 Jun 2003-16 Dec 2004 Lieutenant Commander TS Byles RAN
16 Dec 2004-02 Sep 2005 Lieutenant Commander M Edwards RAN