Fiji Navy patrol boat runs aground on maiden voyage, months after being donated by Australia

Fiji Navy patrol boat runs aground on maiden voyage, months after being donated by Australia
  • PublishedJune 12, 2024

A Pacific patrol boat has run aground on its maiden voyage in Fiji, just a few months after it was handed over by the Australian government.

Fiji’s Navy confirmed on Tuesday that the RFNS Puamau hit a reef on Fiji’s remote Lau group of islands on Monday, midway through its first two-week long patrol.

No injuries have been reported but the accident is a major embarrassment for Fiji’s Navy which commissioned the high-tech vessel less than a month ago after it was gifted to Fiji’s Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka at a Perth ceremony in March.

Naval officers in white and wearing caps cross a gangway onto a grey navy boat.
Australia handed over the Guardian-class patrol boat RFNS Puamau to Fiji at HMAS Stirling in Western Australia earlier this year.(Supplied: Department of Defence)

In a statement, Fiji’s Navy said its first priority was “the safety and welfare of all crew onboard and safely recovering the vessel”.

“A crisis management team has been assembled to oversee the situation, with emergency support crews en route and secondary support arrangements underway in collaboration with our partners,” it said.

Australia is helping with the recovery operation, with Fiji’s Navy deploying another patrol boat to the stricken vessel and scrambling to pump water out of the engine room to ensure flooding is controlled.

A grey navy patrol boat sails into a harbour on a cloudy day, with mountains in the background.
The RFNS Puamau, pictured here arriving at Suva Harbour in May, is Fiji’s second Guardian-class patrol boat.(Supplied: Republic of Fiji Navy)

It’s not yet clear how seriously it has been damaged, but the ABC has been told that any delays in salvaging the vessel could exacerbate the damage.

A local witness told the ABC that the passage where the RFNS Puamau ran aground was known to be treacherous, and that there were strong easterly winds at the weekend.

They also said that most commercial ferries don’t attempt to enter the area.

Naval personnel in white uniforms on the deck of a grey navy patrol boat.
The patrol boat was commissioned for active service in May.(Supplied: Republic of Fiji Navy)

The Guardian-class patrol boats are popular with Pacific Island governments, which use the Australian-built high-tech vessels to survey their vast maritime zones and track illegal fishing.

Nineteen boats have so far been handed over to Pacific nations under the Pacific Maritime Security Program.

But the program has also been plagued by issues — with Pacific Minister Pat Conroy revealing not long after taking office that the patrol vessels had several defects including potential problems with the exhaust system.

Multiple patrol vessels have also been damaged in recent years, due to mishaps or natural disasters.

Australia handed a new Guardian-class patrol boat to Samoa late last year after the police ran aground the $30 million Nafanua II in October 2021, damaging it beyond repair.

Two other patrol boats — Tuvalu’s HMTSS Te Mataili, and Vanuatu’s RVS Takuare — were also badly damaged by the twin cyclones that hit Vanuatu in March last year.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong announced earlier this year that Australia would “fast track” a replacement Guardian-class Patrol Boat for Tuvalu.


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