THE HMPNGS Lakekamu’s port call visit last week to Port Vila was to replenish the ship’s logistics, social interactions with their Vanuatu counterparts and generally a short break for the sailors after a long sea voyage.
The port call was an historic occasion for Papua New Guinea and for the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF), after 36 years of independence of Vanuatu.
In an interview onboard HMPNGS Lakekamu, the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant James Carroll confirmed it was the first time for this PNG patrol boat to visit Vanuatu since troops of the PNGDF had been deployed to Vanuatu during the 1980 rebellion to quell the internal security threats.
The PNGDF contingent deployed into Vanuatu in 1980 included three Fremantle class patrol boats (HMPNGS Lae, HMPNGS Madang and HMPNGS Aitape – now all decommissioned), two LCH currently in service, HMPNGS Salamaua and HMPNGS Buna, and two DC3 troop transport/cargo planes and two Nomad Islander reconnaissance planes.
These assets were deployed to Vanuatu in support of two Infantry rifle companies and a Force Headquarters which comprised the Kumul Force.
The name ‘Kumul’ is an issue that was brought up by Vanuatu’s Deputy Prime Minister Joe Natuman a few months ago, when meeting with the PNG Prime Minister, Peter O’Neil in Port Vila, where both Melanesian leaders had discussed for the current Lini Highway to be renamed ‘Kumul’ Highway in commemoration of PNG Troops intervention in Vanuatu back in 1980.
“It is an event of which the Commanding Officer and his men will treasure for life. After more than 36 years since the Papua New Guinea Government deployed the PNG Defence Force troops, aircraft and ships at the request of Vanuatu Government,” said Commanding Officer Carroll.
Meanwhile, Lt Carroll said HMPNGS Lakekamu is one of three Balikpapan Class of Landing Craft Heavy (LH) of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) based at HMPNGS Basilik Landing Craft Base in Port Moresby, the National Capital District of Papua New Guinea – a former Royal Australian Navy (RAN) ship was donated to the PNGDF and was commissioned as the PNGDF Maritime Element training ship in 2014.
“The ship has a normal compliment of 20 crew but on this training voyage, she has 27 crew,” he said.
Wednesday morning, Vanuatu’s national patrol boat, RVS Tukoro with 30 crew members on board along with HMPNGS Kakekamu both left Port Vila harbor and sailed for New Caledonia, where they are both participating in the multi- national military training code name ‘Exercise Southern Cross or Croix du Sud 2016 edition.
The exercise is a biennial event, that takes place in Noumea, New Caledonia, gathering forces from various countries, including USA, Canada, United Kingdom, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu and this time Papua New Guinea.
It is understood that HMPNGS Lakekamu sailed from Port Moresby up to PNG northern coast to the PNG-Indonesia border town of Vanimo, before sailing across the Bismarck sea to Manus then to Port Vila, a distance of around 2785 nautical miles, in just over 14 days.
Lt Com James Carroll, from the ARN, now on secondment to the PNGDF, is the ship’s Commanding officer since HMPNGS Lakekamu’s commission into service in 2014. Lieutenant Commander Carroll is also the senior training advisor responsible for Maritime Element training in the PNGDF.
He confirmed that for the first time, two PNG female crew members will be joining the HMPNGS Lakekamu in January 2017.