HMAS
Melville

HMAS Melville at sea
Class
Leeuwin Class
Type
Role
  • Hydrographic survey
  • Support
Pennant
A246
International Callsign
VLSF
Motto
With Determination
Home Port
Builder
North Queensland Engineers & Agents
Launched
1 June 1998
Commissioned
27 May 2000
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 2205 tonnes
Length 71.2 metres
Beam 15.2 metres
Draught 4.3 metres
Performance
Speed 14 knots
Range 18,000 nautical miles
Complement
Crew 46
Propulsion
Machinery
  • 4 x GEC Alsthom 6RK 215 diesel generators
  • 2 x Alsthom electric propulsion motors
Armament
Radars STN Atlas 9600 ARPA navigation radar
Sonars
  • C-Tech CMAS 36/39
  • Atlas Fansweep multibeam echo sounder
  • Atlas Hydrographic Deso single beam echo sounder
Helicopters 1 x AS 350B Squirrel (not permanently embarked)
Awards
Other Awards US Meritorious Unit Commendation, awarded to HS Blue crew in January 2018 by the US Marine Corps
Resources
News Articles
Image Gallery
HMAS Melville ship's badge

HMA Ships Melville and Leeuwin were hydrographic survey ships built for the Royal Australian Navy by North Queensland Engineers and Agents in Cairns. Melville’s hydrographic survey system integrated accurate position information with data from a multi-beam echo sounder, towed side-scan sonar, single beam echo sounder and a forward-looking sonar. It also carried three fully equipped 9-metre Survey Motor Boats for surveys in waters not suitable for the ships themselves, and Melville was capable of embarking an AS350B (Squirrel) helicopter to assist in survey operations.

The ships replaced HMA Ships Moresby (II) and Flinders in 2000. Both ships took their names from prominent points on the Australian coast. HMAS Melville was named after Melville Island, just to the north of Darwin.

The only two ships of the Leeuwin class, they commissioned simultaneously on 27 May 2000, at Trinity Wharf, Cairns. The ships were multi-crewed, with three ship’s companies, Hydrographic Ship (HS) Red, HS White, and HS Blue, operating in rotation in both vessels. 

Mrs Joan Johnston OAM was the guest of honour at the commissioning, having launched the ship in June 1998. She was the widow of Commodore Eric Johnston AO OBE RAN, who was Chief Minister of the Northern Territory from 1981 to 1989, and the last commanding officer of the original HMAS Melville, the shore establishment in Darwin destroyed on 25 December 1974 by Cyclone Tracy.

Melville’s primary role was hydrographic survey operations in Australian waters and beyond. Shortly after commissioning, the ship sailed from Cairns on its first operational survey deployment, in the waters off Fitzroy Island. During its first year of commission, Melville spent time surveying in the Torres Strait, and visited ports in Brisbane and Darwin.

A new role for the Australian Defence Force developed from late 2001 with the Australian Government’s adoption of a more assertive posture towards preventing asylum seekers and people smugglers from entering Australian waters. In November of that year, Melville berthed in Cairns for repainting to warship grey. In December, the ship’s company increased from 46 to 127 members, including an Army Transport Security Element, a Squirrel helicopter and crew, and boarding party personnel. The ship was force assigned to Operation Relex, which involved patrols to Australia’s north to intercept and turn back vessels suspected of illegal entry.

Melville’s participation in Operations Relex and Relex II continued into 2002. By the end of that year, successive commanding officers of Melville expressed concern that continued Relex deployments were having a negative impact on the hydrographic surveying capability of the crew, and the progression and maintenance of their core skills.

Leeuwin Class survey ship HMAS Melville sails towards Queen Salote Wharf in Nukuʻalofa, Tonga.

Leeuwin Class survey ship HMAS Melville sails towards Queen Salote Wharf in Nukuʻalofa, Tonga.

The beginning of 2003 saw a return to hydrographic survey work, and two visits to New Zealand, the first foreign port visits for the ship. Melville also participated in Exercise Crocodile 2003, a mine detection exercise. The ship sailed south to Hobart early in 2004, and on the passage back acted as on-scene commander for ultimately unsuccessful search and rescue efforts for a man lost overboard off Spirit of Tasmania II. Melville recommenced survey operations in the waters near Cairns, and later in the year, rescued all five civilian crew from a private craft that had run aground on a nearby reef.

In 2005, Melville participated in Exercises Tasmanex and Talisman Sabre. The next year it conducted hydrographic surveys in Papua New Guinean waters, with the Papua New Guinea government hydrographer embarked. In 2007, Melville was force assigned to Operation Resolute, the ongoing Australian Defence Force effort to protect Australia’s borders and offshore maritime interests. Its patrols near Ashmore Reef were interspersed with survey operations in Western Australian waters, and a port visit to Singapore.

HMAS Melville departs her homeport in Cairns to conduct hydrographic survey work as part of a deployment to the Bass Strait.

HMAS Melville departs her homeport in Cairns to conduct hydrographic survey work as part of a deployment to the Bass Strait.

In 2012, Melville received its first hydrographic instruction in two years, a welcome return to core operations. Over the next few years, it conducted surveys in South Australian, Northern Territory, and Queensland waters. In March 2017, Melville provided disaster relief in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Debbie, as part of Operation Queensland Assist 2017. Later in the same year, Melville’s HS Blue crew identified the recent wreck of a US Marine Corps Osprey aircraft in 59 metres of water off the Queensland coast. Divers from the ship found and secured the remains of the three marines killed in the crash. In a display of gratitude, the commander of the US Marine Corps in the Pacific awarded the HS Blue crew the US Meritorious Unit Citation in 2018.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of planned visits to the Solomon Islands and Noumea. Over the next two years, members of Melville’s crew travelled to Melbourne in support of Operation COVID-19 Assist. The ship also carried out a contactless port visit to Pohnpei, in the Federated States of Micronesia, to deliver essential supplies. Melville spent much of 2023 and 2024 again force assigned to Operation Resolute.

HMAS Melville sails through the Coral Sea.

HMAS Melville sails through the Coral Sea.

Alongside operational commitments, Melville has participated in diplomatic, ceremonial and commemorative events.

Melville contributed to Operation Render Safe in 2009. Sailing to Honiara in the Solomon Islands, Melville’s embarked explosives experts and divers worked with the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force to make safe underwater explosives from the Second World War.

At different times, Melville participated in Operations Solania and Rai-Balang, the Australian Defence Force’s contribution to maritime surveillance and fisheries enforcement in the Solomon Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia respectively. In 2019, during the Solomon Islands’ national election, Melville used its embarked boats to transfer Australian and Solomon Islander election observers between polling places.

Over the course of its service, Melville visited ports throughout the Pacific region, including Auckland, Christchurch, Napier, Noumea, Alotau, Madang, Rabaul, Port Moresby, Singapore, Langkawi, Kota Kinabalu, Honiara, Surabaya, Cilacap, Dili, Nuku’alofa, and Pohnpei.

Living up to the ship’s motto, hundreds of RAN personnel have served with determination in Melville, enabling the safe navigation of other vessels, supporting maritime trade and protecting Australia’s borders. 

 

Date  Commanding Officer
  Commander IC McKellar 
  Commander PA Savage 
  Commander MI Kumpis 
  Lieutenant Commander DJ Battilana 
  Lieutenant Commander RP Mortimer 
  Lieutenant Commander AJ Muckalt 
  Commander NC Zillman 
  Lieutenant Commander WP Stewart 
  Lieutenant Commander CM Waterson 
  Lieutenant Commander ND Cheverton 
  Lieutenant Commander RB Hooper 
  Commander ST Dunne 
  Lieutenant Commander M Pounder 
  Commander PR Hiatt 
  Lieutenant Commander ML Gulyas 
  Commander PJ Kenshole 
  Lieutenant Commander LS Gordon 
  Commander MR Houston 
  Lieutenant Commander DL Sowter 
  Commander J Daetz 
  Lieutenant Commander JA McGannon 
  Commander AJ Withers 
  Commander BK Brace 
  Lieutenant Commander MJ Beard 
  Lieutenant Commander GR Cann 
  Commander JW Maschke 
  Lieutenant Commander CJ Hardy 
  Commander R Nairn