By Flight Lieutenant Bel Scott

HMAS Newcastle, in company with the Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2019 (IPE19) flagship HMAS Canberra, has made her final transit through the busiest and most complex sea waters in the world: the Malacca and Singapore Straits.

The navigation officer on Newcastle, Lieutenant Mitchell Smith, was responsible for getting the ship – which will be decommissioned later this year – safely through the region.

"That’s about 50,000 ships passing through an area only 2.7 kilometres wide."

“As the main shipping channel between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, the Malacca and Singapore Straits are some of the most strategic straits in the world,” Lieutenant Smith said.

“About one third of the world’s oil production passes through these straits; that’s about 50,000 ships passing through an area only 2.7 kilometres wide and represents about 25-30 trillion dollars in global trade.

“Add on top of that the international law of territorial waters and archipelagic sea lanes, this becomes a very complex transit for Newcastle and Canberra.”

HMAS Newcastle transits the Malacca Strait during Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2019. Photo: Leading Seaman Steven Thomson

Lieutenant Smith’s job was to ensure Newcastle did not break any international laws or agreements in the area.

“These straits are backed on to a number of nations that patrol the area and prevent acts of illegal activity known to occur throughout the straits and the South China Sea,” he said.

“It’s very important as a team that the whole ship is working together to ensure we safely transit these waters, protect our ships in company and the merchant traffic in the area.”

Seaman Joseph Kura on the bridge wing of Newcastle as the ship transits the Malacca Strait. Photo: Leading Seaman Steven Thomson

During the passage, the bridge thrummed with activity with all hands on deck to monitor other ship movements and potential navigational hazards.

Boatswain’s mates on each bridge wing, one on the gunnery direction platform and one at the helm formed the quick response force team.

“This being the last passage for Newcastle through these straits and region, it has been quite something to reflect upon for the ship’s company."

Newcastle’s commanding officer, Commander Anita Sellick, said passing through the highly congested sea lane was a complex task with other ships involved.

“There are many maritime boundaries that are adjacent to one another and above these maritime boundaries are also air space boundaries,” Commander Sellick said.

“That’s where Newcastle’s strength lies: we provide force projection and air protection to the task force as we navigate these waters together.”

Commander Sellick said the transit required the application of mariner skills, training and years of experience in more open waters.

“This being the last passage for Newcastle through these straits and region, it has been quite something to reflect upon for the ship’s company,” she said.

Newcastle will decommission in Sydney after taking part in IPE19 and visiting her namesake city.