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How An Offshore Ship Joined The Australian Navy

April 10, 2014

Earlier this week, a ship of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) made a breakthrough in the long search for a missing Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777. Pings emitted by a plane’s black box were detected within a 600 kilometer area hundreds of miles from the Western Australia coast.

But the ship that caught the signal, the Australian defense vessel (ADV) Ocean Shield, is not a cutting edge warship with all the usual bells and whistles. On the contrary, it possesses a very different suite of bells and whistles better suited for humanitarian missions.

The Ocean Shield, previously the Norwegian flagged Skandi Bergen, was purchased by the Australian government from its owner DOF in March 2012 for “less than 130 million US dollars.”

DOF or DOF Group is a maritime conglomerate specializing in subsea vessels used for constructing offshore gas infrastructure.

When it was bought the Skandi Bergen was under construction by STX OSV, a Norwegian ship design firm now called Vard after its acquisition by Italian giant Fincantieri. The Skandi Bergen, with its bow-supported helicopter flight deck, 100 ton offshore crane, and 106 meter length, belongs to the Vard 3 08 class.

At the time it was acquired, the Australian government intended the Skandi Bergen to bolster the RAN’s amphibious capability in a non-combat role. Renamed the Ocean Shield and classified as an offshore support vessel (OSV), according to the RAN’s website it will serve as a placeholder until the RAN commissions the first of its new amphibious assault ships from Navantia. The Ocean Shield entered service three months after it was sold.

Based on specifications released by the RAN, the Ocean Shield displaces at 6,500 tons and travels at 16 knots,  supporting a hundred man civilian crew. Since it doesn’t carry weapons, the Ocean Shield is destined to later serve in the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. Despite its short stint with the RAN, the Ocean Shield shouldn’t be dismissed as a novelty. Civilian ships have always worked well alongside conventional Naval fleets.

Since March 23, when it departed Port Kwinana in the Western Australian city of Perth, Ocean Shield has remained preoccupied with scouring the Indian Ocean depths for the elusive MH370 using a towed pinger locator or TPL-25 borrowed from the US Navy.

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