US Navy warship sails into a spot of trouble at Sydney’s Garden Island

USS Wasp entering Sydney Harbour before joining Exercise Talisman Sabre in Queensland. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

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SYDNEY, Jun 18, 2019, SMH. It’s foreign navy visiting season and hot in the wake of three Chinese warships entering Sydney Harbour a fortnight ago, the US navy sent USS Wasp through the heads on Tuesday, bristling with the latest in American amphibious warfighting capability, reported The Sydney Morning Herald.

But the arrival dockside at Garden Island did not quite go according to plan. Despite the much-vaunted “interoperability” of US and Australian defence assets, navy personnel took several hours working out how to connect the ship’s main gangway to the Garden Island wharf.

Senior brass and journalists waited dockside as various manoeuvres were tried involving a crane, ropes and teams of seamen before the senior US officers eventually made it ashore.

US Captain Jim McGovern, the commodore of Amphibious Squadron Eleven, and Marines leader Colonel Robert Brodie, brushed aside the delay, proffering the explanation that the Wasp had not been to Sydney before and they wanted to ensure safety for disembarking sailors and marines.

There had been a “misplace” of the prow, Captain McGovern added, while the Australian commander of HMAS Kuttabal, Captain Matthew Shand, assured onlookers that “American ingenuity and Aussie knowhow” had the problem in hand.

USS Wasp is carrying 1000 crew and 1500 marines who will disembark in Sydney for two days before heading north to Queensland waters for Talisman Sabre, a biennial combat training exercise for US and Australian forces. They will be joined this year by forces from Canada, New Zealand, the UK and Japan.

The Wasp, which carries the marine variant of the F-35 joint strike fighter aircraft as well as helicopters and the tiltrotor Ospreys, provides the core of Amphibious Squadron Eleven. It’s also equipped with landing craft, vehicles, a 600-bed hospital, four operating rooms, and intensive care unit. Captain McGovern described it as the US Navy’s “only permanently forward deployed” amphibious group and marine expeditionary unit in the Indo-Pacific.

“It’s a symbol of power and a signal of our countries are working together,” he said. Colonel Brodie said the partnership with Australia meant that “within this region, our coming together, our working together, provides stability and an environment where people have the opportunity to have the freedoms they deserve”.

President Donald Trump came on board the USS Wasp to deliver a memorial day address in Japan late last month, but controversy erupted after a number of crew were seen wearing Trump-themed patches carrying the slogan “Make Aircrew Great Again”.

The US Navy is investigating for possible violation of its rules.

Asked about the incident on Tuesday, Captain McGovern said he could not comment on an ongoing investigation. But he said it had been “a privilege to host our commander in chief and the ship did a terrific job settling that up, and I am extremely proud of how the ship acted during the visit.”

Colonel Brodie said he was confident there would be no repeat of the tragedy which marred the last Talisman Sabre exercise in 2017, when three marines died after an Osprey crashed off the Queensland coast during manoeuvres. “Our aviators are at the top of their game”, he told the Herald.

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