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Fiji Recovers Patrol Boat Three Weeks After Grounding on First Patrol

Fiji patrol boat
The new patrol boat was aground for three weeks while the salvage operation progressed (Fiji Navy)

Published Jul 2, 2024 3:34 PM by The Maritime Executive

 

Three weeks after its new patrol boat RFNS Puamau grounded during its first patrol, the Fiji Navy is reporting the vessel was safely recovered and is being towed to port for an inspection. The vessel, valued at approximately US$10.6 million, grounded on June 10 in the remote Lau group of islands, with ABC News Australia calling it a “treacherous area” with difficult sea passages.

A challenging salvage operation was launched as the vessel sat atop a reef. The stern compartment of the 130-foot (39.5-meter) steel monohull patrol boat was reported flooded but they were able to contain and manage the water ingress.  The crew was evacuated from the ship and brought home by another of the country’s patrol boats.

Specialized salvage teams and equipment were flown in from Australia with the assistance of the Australian government, which had gifted the vessel to Fiji as part of a regional security effort. The Fiji Navy’s engineers and divers were working on the efforts which included debunkering the patrol boat. The salvage effort took about two weeks.

The salvage tug Ratu Rabici and another patrol boat, RFNS Savenaca were at the salvage site. Fiji reports the vessel is now afloat and being towed to neighboring Ogea Island where a through damage assessment will be conducted. 

 

RFNS Puamau afloat and being towed to port for a damage assessment (Fiji Navy)

 

Built by Austal in Australia, the vessel was delivered in March and after training was mid-way through its first patrol. According to the shipbuilder, this class of patrol boats are faster than the previous Pacific-class patrol boats, with improved seakeeping, better amenities, and an enhanced mission capability. They have an integrated RHIB stern launch and recovery system and were designed to carry out border patrols, regional policing, search and rescue, and other operations domestically and internationally.

A Board of Inquiry has also been convened to review the grounding incident. Fiji decided to launch the independent investigation based on the unique nature of the situation and the value of the vessel. The board has been charged to ascertain the facts surrounding the incident. It will also make recommendations based on its findings.

The Australian Government launched its Pacific Maritime Security Program in 2016 and began ordering the vessel, Guardian class patrol boats, from Austal in 2018. They have been delivered to 12 Pacific Island nations. The RFNS Puamau was the nineteenth vessel to be delivered as part of a program of 22 vessels. The government in late June reported the order of two more vessels for the program. The latest vessels are scheduled for delivery in 2026. Austal values the total 24 ship project at approximately US$267 million.