Friday 17 Aug 2018 | 15:15 | SYDNEY
Friday 17 Aug 2018 | 15:15 | SYDNEY

Above and below deck on HMAS Sydney


Ashley Townshend


22 July 2010 16:24

Last Monday, my colleagues and I spent a day aboard guided missile frigate HMAS Sydney as it sailed to Jervis Bay. The following photos and video give a sense of our experience. 

As we followed supply ship HMAS Sirius and another guided missile frigate, HMAS Melbourne, through Sydney Harbour, the crew saluted each RAN vessel we passed. 

At sea, we took part in a refuelling operation during which both frigates saddled-up beside Sirius while the hulking 'oiler' replenished Melbourne. Sirius can refill two vessels simultaneously; though getting three ships moving at 14 knots within a stone's throw of each other can be a challenging manoeuvre.

Inside the ship you get a sense of Sydney's logistics. From the bridge the crew steer and navigate, perched high above the bow. Seahawk helicopters are commanded from a tiny cubicle sunk into the rear landing deck. And the hull is stuffed with everything from workshops and supply centres, to armouries, surgeries and the 'bad to the bone' gym. 

It is easy to forget how little of a warship's day-to-day activities are about firing weapons. Sure, Sydney's weapons control room – crammed with radar-screens, launching systems and top-secret intelligence facilities – looks like something out of The Hunt for Red October. But a reality-check lies in the galley. Tasked with feeding 210 sailors three times a day for up to two months, supplying food is among Sydney's most expensive and important pursuits.

Another is self-preservation. During one exercise, RAAF jets flew menacingly low over Melbourne and Sydney to simulate a hostile air raid. Recently refitted to include a Vertical Launch System for Sea Sparrow missiles, Sydney and Melbourne are well-equipped to prevent such an attack. The frigates field a range of other weapons too, including a 76mm gun which, at one point, battered a target from a range of five miles. 

As we motored away from HMAS Sydney, it was difficult to reconcile its peaceful exterior with the relentless activity continuing below deck.