Royal Australian Navy Evacuates Residents from Fire-Stricken Town

The view aft as HMAS Choules departs Sydney for Mallacoota, January 1 (RAN)

Published Jan 2, 2020 2:40 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Royal Australian Navy landing dock ship HMAS Choules is preparing to evacuate vulnerable residents and tourists from the town of Mallacoota, Victoria after extreme bushfires devastated infrastructure and cut off most road access. It may be weeks before the roads in and out are reopened.

Displaced families and tourists seeking to leave by ship are now signing up for possible evacuation. The officials overseeing the operation are prioritizing individuals with athsma and breathing difficulties, the young, the elderly and people in ill health; many of those with more serious medical conditions have already been evacuated by helicopter. 

The HMAS Choules has capacity to evacuate about 1,000 people at a time if needed - not enough for everyone in Mallacoota, but a significant lift for high-priority cases. She as a well deck sized to handle two Mexeflote powered landing barges and enough ro/ro cargo capacity for 150 light trucks. 

Mallacoota is far from the only community affected by the disastrous 2019-2020 fire season. The government of New South Wales has ordered all tourists and visitors to leave a 150-mile stretch of coastline to the north of Mallacoota. Fire conditions are expected to worsen on Saturday, and emergency response assets have been stretched thin by weeks of heavy firefighting. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has declared a state of emergency allowing officials to forcibly remove people from fire-stricken areas, effective Friday. "We don't take these decisions lightly but we also want to make sure we're taking every single precaution to be prepared for what could be a horrible day on Saturday," Berejiklian told media.