Over 1,000 people who were forced by the bushfires in Australia to take refuge on coastal beaches have been rescued by the Navy and transported to the Melbourne area. Friday morning the evacuees at Mallacoota in northeast Victoria were moved from the community center to the pier by buses and then transported to ships using five landing craft.
Two ships took part in the mission. The smaller of the two was the MV Sycamore, a 308-foot 2,400-ton training ship first launched in 2016. It normally operates with a 22-person crew, can accommodate up to 71 Australian Defense Force personnel overnight, and has a multi-use space which can be configured to help cope with disasters. The Sycamore picked up 58 evacuees at Mallacoota on the northeast coast of Victoria and transported them on a 20-hour voyage about 320 miles to Hastings near Melbourne.
The HMAS Choules is much larger than the Sycamore — 579 feet and 16,160 tons. It is classified as an “auxiliary landing ship logistics”, designed for hauling cargo. It operates with a 158-person crew and can carry 32 M1A1 Abrams tanks or 150 light trucks. According to Wikipedia it can transport 700 soldiers “in overload conditions.” On Friday it loaded 1,025 evacuees at Mallacoota and took them on the same 20-hour voyage to the Melbourne area. Army staff on the ship served approximately 3,500 meals during the trip.
Both ships docked at the Port of Hastings Saturday and the passengers were transferred to a disaster relief center at the Melbourne convention center. They brought with them 135 dogs and several cats.
Evacuees who were very sick were flown from Mallacoota on Blackhawk helicopters.
In interviews with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Department of Defense, the evacuees spoke glowingly of how they were treated by the crews on the ships. A 16-year-old girl who had just disembarked from the Sycamore said, “It was so comfortable on the ship. The crew was amazing, food amazing, the beds — perfect. I’m very thankful for it.”
The two ships were scheduled to return to Mallacoota.