HMAS Paluma (IV) at sea
Paluma Class
  • Hydrographic survey
  • Support
International Callsign
Search With Diligence
Eglo, Adelaide
Laid Down
21 February 1988
6 February 1989
27 February 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 3600 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
Inherited Battle Honours NEW GUINEA 1942-44
News Articles
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HMAS Paluma (IV) ships badge

Paluma Class Coastal Survey Ships (AGSC)

HMAS Paluma (IV) was the first 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 Paluma’s case most commonly with HMAS Mermaid, or the Laser Airborne Depth Sounder (LADS) flight.


HMAS Paluma was named and commissioned into the RAN in a ceremony conducted at HMAS Encounter, South Australia, on 27 February 1989 under the command of Lieutenant Commander Mark Sinclair, RAN. Attendees at the commissioning ceremony included the Federal Member for Port Adelaide, Mr Rod Sawford MP representing the Minister for Defence, Chief of Naval Staff, VADM Mike Hudson, AC, RAN, RADM Barrie West, AO, RAN, and the ship’s sponsor, Mrs Jocelyn West. Also present were a number of Commanding Officers of the former RAN vessels to carry the name Paluma. The then flagship of the RAN fleet, HMAS Stalwart, provided a band and guard for the ceremony. 

Naming Lady Jocelyn West cuts the ribbon during Paluma's commissioning ceremony. 27 February 1989.
Ship's Sponsor Jocelyn West cuts the ribbon during Paluma's commissioning ceremony. 27 February 1989.

Roles and Operations

Paluma’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 numerous trials and defect rectification common to a first of class vessel, Paluma departed Adelaide on 19 September 1989 and arrived in her home port of Cairns on 24 October, via Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Townsville. She commenced her first hydrographic operations on 21 November 1989 conducting wreck searches in the Cairns area. 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.

HMAS Paluma during a rare visit to Sydney.
HMAS Paluma during a rare visit to Sydney.

Paluma 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 regional neighbours. Areas surveyed by Paluma over her 32 years of service in the RAN included Princess Charlotte Bay, Cape Flattery, 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. 

Paluma deployed to Bougainville Island, in company with Mermaid, 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. Paluma also provided a maritime presence at Buka during the Peace Negotiations in March 2000.  The two ships later 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.

More recently, Paluma conducted survey operations in support of Exercise TALISMAN SABRE 19, this included rapid environmental assessments and recovery of tidal infrastructure within Shoalwater bay.

Following the outbreak of the COVID 19 pandemic, which severely curtailed hydrographic operations, Paluma 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. Paluma went on to conduct Operation RESOLUTE patrols throughout 2020, predominately in the Torres Strait region. 

Paluma has also regularly provided support to the civil community, responding to a number of mariners in distress, and through the provision of emergency support, engineering assistance and medivac capabilities to others in need.

Regional Engagement

Against the backdrop of her operational commitments, Paluma has also been a regular participant in diplomatic, ceremonial and commemorative events. Paluma was highly engaged with the North Queensland region during her service, participating in Freedom of Entry Marches in her namesake township of Paluma in 1990 and 2021. The ship also provided an RAN presence for ANZAC Day commemorations in Cairns, Cooktown, Hope Vale, Bowen, Weipa, Kuranda, Cardwell, Thursday Island, Mareeba, Edmonton, Ravenshoe and Tully. She was engaged in a number of culturally significant surveys, cooperating with Land Information Darwin personnel to identify the boundaries of the Kakadu National Park, and later embarked a group of Indigenous tribal elders to survey Vansittart bay in the Kimberleys. She regularly hosted tour groups, family cruises, foreign dignitaries, diplomatic missions and a wide variety of ADF members. 

Commanding Officer of HMAS Paluma, Lieutenant Commander Craig Hamilton leads his crew in a Freedom of Entry march through the ship’s namesake town of Paluma, North Queensland. 7 August 2021.
Commanding Officer of HMAS Paluma, Lieutenant Commander Craig Hamilton leads his crew in a Freedom of Entry march through the ship’s namesake town of Paluma, North Queensland. 7 August 2021.

Paluma visited Ambon, Indonesia, in August 1990 where the Deputy Hydrographer, Indonesian Navy visited both Paluma and her sister ship, HMAS Mermaid. 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. Paluma also liaised with HMA Ships Benalla, Mermaid and Shepparton to visit Port Moresby in September 1991, the first time that all four AGSCs had visited a port simultaneously other than Cairns.

Paluma and Mermaid 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. Paluma’s crew enjoyed a number of port visits to Port Moresby, Alotau and Rabaul.

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

In June 2019, Paluma officially became the longest serving vessel in the RAN Fleet, and was awarded the ‘First Lady of the Fleet’ Trophy. Upon her decommissioning, that mantle was passed to fellow hydrographic survey ship, HMAS Shepparton.

Over the course of her commission, HMAS Paluma steamed over 435,000 nautical miles and spent more than 53,000 hours underway. Paluma and sister ship HMAS Mermaid were decommissioned on 18 September 2021 after more than three decades of dedicated and invaluable service to the RAN.

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

Commanding Officers

27 February 1989 

LCDR M.J Sinclair, RAN

2 November 1990 

LCDR J.W Maschke, RAN

16 June 1992


26 November 1993

LCDR D.J Wyatt, RN

13 April 1995


9 May 1996


30 April 1998

LEUT J.A McGannon, RAN

12 October 2000

LCDR M.L Gulyas, RAN

4 July 2003


20 July 2004

LCDR P.J Kenshole, RAN

20 December 2004 


12 December 2006

LCDR R.B Hooper, RAN

19 June 2009

LCDR M.S.A Tökesi, RAN

5 January 2012

LCDR M.J Parsons, RAN

6 July 2012

LCDR D.J Battilana, RAN

13 December 2012

LCDR G.A Walker, RAN

11 December 2013


15 December 2015

LCDR C.E Diplock, RAN

12 December 2017


9 December 2019 

LCDR C. Hamilton RAN