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Aussies decommission Kanimbla
by Staff Writers
Sydney (UPI) Dec 2, 2011

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Australia decommissioned the last of its amphibious landing platforms, the HMAS Kanimbla -- formerly the USS Saginaw -- and will commission its newest amphibious ship, the British-built HMAS Choules, this month.

The Kanimbla was decommissioned at its home port of Garden Island in Sydney at the end of last month, ending 17 years of service including support for coalition forces.

"Today represents the closing of a fine chapter in the history of navy's amphibious fleet, actively supporting national and Coalition operations spanning from the western Pacific to the Middle East," Australian navy Cmdr. Brendon Zilko said.

"Kanimbla was the first coalition vessel to supply urgently needed medical supplies to civilian hospitals in Baghdad. Kanimbla also undertook numerous humanitarian aid and disaster relief missions providing relief to thousands of people in Vanuatu, Indonesia and East Timor," he said.

Kanimbla is a 9,408-ton helicopter capable amphibious transport ship with a 40-bed hospital, which has seen an army contingent embedded as part of its crew. The 525-foot vessel was built for the U.S. Navy by the National Steel and Shipbuilding Company in San Diego in 1970.

It carried 2 LCM8 landing craft and would carry 4 Black Hawk or 3 Sea King helicopters.

The Australian navy announced in May the ship was to be decommissioned.

The Australian Defense Department said the 17,637-ton Choules left Cape Town, South Africa, en route from the United Kingdom, and will arrive at Fleet Base West on Dec. 10 for commissioning Dec 13.

The 577-foot vessel has room for two large helicopters and is capable of carrying 150 light trucks and 350 troops. The Australian crew spent up to six months training with the British navy to operate the ship, the Defense Department said.

Australia bought the Choules -- formerly the Largs Bay -- from the British in May after it was declared surplus to U.K. naval needs. The vessel was built by Swan Hunter in Wallsend, Tyne and Wear, northern England and named after Largs Bay in Ayrshire, Scotland.

It was commissioned into the British navy auxiliary in November 2006 and patrolled the seas around the British south Atlantic colony the Falkland Islands in 2008.

Zilko said the arrival of the Choules will "tide us over" until the first landing helicopter dock ships arrive in several years.

"Kanimbla's successes will be built on into the future with the introduction of the Canberra class landing helicopter dock ships providing advanced amphibious capability to the navy," said Zilko.

The first LHD hull, the Canberra, for which BAE Systems Australia is the prime contractor, is expected to arrive in Williamstown, South Australia, in August.

Delivery of the first training packages supplied by BAE is expected in 2013, ahead of completion of the first ship in 2015.

Around 30 BAE Systems employees will manage the training process for the LHD project, which was launched in 2007 when a Spanish design was selected over one by the French company Direction des Constructions Navales.

In Spain, Navantia is responsible for construction of the ships from the keel to the flight deck. The hulls will be transported to Australia for completion by BAE Systems Australia.

Work on the Canberra started in late 2008 and the hull was launched in early 2011. Work on the Adelaide started last year. Both ships are to enter service by the end of 2015.

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