Survey Motor Launch HMAS Mermaid at sea during Minor War Vessel Concentration Period
Paluma Class
Role Support
International Callsign
No Task Too Arduous
Eglo, Adelaide
28 September 1989
4 December 1989
18 September 2021
Dimensions & Displacement
Displacement 325 tonnes
Length 36.6 metres
Beam 12.8 metres
Draught 2.65 metres
Speed 11 knots
Range 3,600 nautical miles
Crew 15
Machinery 2 x Detroit 12V-92TA diesels
Radars Kelvin Hughes 1007
Sonars Thales Petrel three-dimensional forward looking active high frequency
News Articles
Image Gallery
HMAS Mermaid ships badge

Paluma Class Coastal Survey Ships (AGSC)

HMAS Mermaid was one of four Paluma class coastal survey ships (AGSC), commonly referred to as survey motor launches (SMLs), commissioned by the RAN designed for hydrographic survey operations in the shallow waters of northern Australia. Their twin hulls provided good stability in heavy conditions, and good living room and space below the main deck. In addition the catamaran hull sat well out of the water, the ship drawing only 2.2 metres, a favourable characteristic when surveying shoals and reefs. All data collected by the ships was forwarded to the Australian Hydrographic Office for subsequent publication in navigational charts. Surveys were often conducted in concert with other AGSCs, in Mermaid’s case most commonly with HMAS Paluma (IV), or the Laser Airborne Depth Sounder (LADS) flight.


Mermaid, the second of the Paluma class AGSCs, commissioned on 4 December 1989 at HMAS Encounter in Adelaide under the command of Lieutenant Commander Paul Spencer, RAN. The Guest of Honour and Commissioning Lady was Mrs Angela Compton, the wife of the RAN hydrographer, Commodore John Compton, AM, RAN, who was also in attendance. Other attendees included The Hon. Mr Kim Beazley, Minister for Defence, and Vice Admiral Mike Hudson, AC, RAN, Chief of Naval Staff. The ship’s company of HMAS Parramatta (III) provided the guard of honour for the event while the South Australian Police Force provided a 37 piece band.

Roles and Operations

Mermaid’s primary role was the execution of Hydrographic survey operations in the waters of Australia’s northern reaches. The charting area for the RAN’s Hydrographic Survey Fleet covers one eighth of the Earth's surface, stretching from Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean, to Norfolk Island in the Pacific Ocean, and from the Solomon Islands to the Antarctic.

Following sea trials, Mermaid departed Adelaide on 8 January 1990 and arrived in her home port of Cairns on 2 February, via Melbourne, Sydney, Lord Howe Island, Brisbane and Mackay, and exercised her sounding equipment in the waters around Lord Howe Island en route.

She commenced her first hydrographic operations on 26 February 1990 at Bee Reef and the Hope Islands Group south of Cooktown. In addition to conducting soundings at sea, hydrographic operations also involved the installation and maintenance of shore stations, established to track underwater targets and for data harvesting of sea conditions such as temperature and salinity.

Mermaid conducted innumerable hydrographic survey operations across the length and breadth of Northern Australia over the course of her commission and participated in a number of international surveys with our regional neighbours. Areas surveyed by Mermaid over her 31 years of service in the RAN included areas off Cooktown, Port Douglas, Cairns and Gladstone, Rockingham Bay, the Great North East Channel, North West Island, Flinders Passage, Endeavour Strait, Hibernia Passage, the Whitsundays, Shoalwater Bay, Warrior Reef, Bathurst Bay, Bustard Bay, Booby Island, Prince of Wales Channel, Shelburne Bay, Turtle Island, Saibai Island, the Wessel Islands Group, Melville Island, Groote Eylandt, Van Diemen Gulf, Napier Broome Bay, Clarence Strait, Joseph Bonaparte Gulf, the Bonaparte Archipelago, Port Essington, Vansittart Bay, Troughton Passage and Beagle Gulf, among others.

HMAS Mermaid conducted innumerable hydrographic operations, predominately in Northern Australian waters.
HMAS Mermaid conducted innumerable hydrographic operations, predominately in Northern Australian waters.

In March 2007 while conducting survey operations in Torres Strait in inclement weather, Mermaid rescued seven Papua New Guinea nationals whose small outrigger vessel collapsed as they were hauled on board. After providing food, clothing and medical assistance, Mermaid returned the seven sailors to Daru. In September 2009, the ship assisted a yacht which had run aground at Lady Musgrave Island to be re-floated.

Mermaid deployed to Bougainville Island, in company with Paluma, in support of Operation BEL ISI II in February and March 2000. While the two ships’ primary tasking was maritime support to the Peace Monitoring Group ashore, they also conducted hydrographic surveys when possible to establish safe routes for coastal shipping around Bougainville. The two ships also conducted survey operations in East Timor in November and December 2000 supporting United Nations Transitional Administration to East Timor (UNTAET) operations in what proved to be a busy and highly successful deployment.

The COVID 19 pandemic severely curtailed hydrographic operations in 2020 but members of Mermaid’s ship’s company contributed to Operation COVID ASSIST in the local Cairns area, and in other parts of Australia in 2021. She returned to sea in June 2020 under the auspices of Operation RESOLUTE, the ADF contribution to the whole-of-government effort to protect Australia’s borders and offshore maritime interests. Mermaid acted purely in a surveillance role between June and October.

The ship’s company also conducted numerous community engagement activities, particularly in remote communities in the far north of the nation.

Regional Engagement

Mermaid visited Ambon, Indonesia, in August 1990 where the Deputy Hydrographer, Indonesian Navy visited both Mermaid and her sister ship, HMAS Paluma. The two ships made several visits to Indonesia in company including visits to Ambon again in February and March 1994, Lembar in July 1997 and Benoa in July 1998. Mermaid also liaised with HMA Ships Benalla, Paluma and Shepparton to visit Port Moresby in September 1991, the first time that all four AGSCs had visited a port simultaneously other than Cairns.

Mermaid and Paluma also visited Papua New Guinea on several occasions to conduct hydrographic operations including Milne Bay, the D’Entrecasteaux Islands, the Laseinie and Brumer Islands, Kau Kau Bay, Cape Ward Hunt, the east coast of New Britain, Caution Bay, Dawson Strait and Kitava Island among others. Mermaid’s crew enjoyed a number of port visits to Port Moresby, Alotau and Rabaul.

HMAS Mermaid in Port Vila Harbour during a South West Pacific deployment. 2011.
HMAS Mermaid in Port Vila Harbour during a South West Pacific deployment. 2011.

As well as ports in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, Mermaid also visited ports in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

Over the course of her commission, HMAS Mermaid steamed nearly 420,000 nautical miles and spent more than 50,000 hours underway. HMAS Mermaid and her sister ship HMAS Paluma (IV) decommissioned on 18 September 2021.

The Australian White Ensign is lowered for the final time during Mermaid's decommissioning ceremony on 18 September 2021.

The Australian White Ensign is lowered for the final time during Mermaid's decommissioning ceremony on 18 September 2021.

Commanding Officers

4 December 1989

LCDR P.A. Spencer, RAN

21 December 1990  

LCDR R.W. Quarrill, RAN

29 May 1992 

LCDR J.W. Maschke, RAN

17 June 1994

LCDR M.E. Prince, RAN

17 May 1996 


6 November 1996  


10 December 1998  

LCDR M.A.R. Matthews, RAN

12 October 2000

LCDR D.L. Sowter, RAN

31 March 2001

LCDR J.A. Daetz, RAN

13 April 2001

LCDR D.L. Sowter, RAN

20 December 2002

LCDR R.D. Bowden, RAN

14 December 2004  

LCDR M. Pounder, RAN

25 June 2007 

LCDR M.J. De Ruyter, RAN

10 December 2008

LCDR D.L. Sowter, RAN

30 October 2009

LCDR R.P. Mortimer, RAN

12 November 2009 

LCDR D.L. Sowter, RAN

31 May 2012


16 December 2014 

LCDR G.W. Lawes, RAN

December 2016

LCDR P. Savage, RAN

21 October 2017 

LCDR D.L. Sowter, RAN

28 October 2017

LCDR P. Savage, RAN

1 November 2019

LCDR S.E. Poing-Destre, RAN

11 December 2019

LCDR C.N. Voysey, RAN

20 July 2020

LCDR A.L. Gabbott, RAN

17 August 2020 

LCDR S.E. Poing-Destre, RAN

7 September 2020

LCDR C.N. Voysey, RAN