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Operation Fiji Assist—first test of new Defence capabilities


The Category 5 storm that struck Fiji on 20 February 2016, flattened communities and killed more than 40 people was Fiji’s worst recorded cyclone.

Australian Army soldier Sapper Justin Letta and Republic of Fiji Military Forces Corporal George Tolotu, remove debris as a part of Operation Fiji Assist on Koro Island
Australian Army soldier Sapper Justin Letta and Republic of Fiji Military Forces Corporal George Tolotu, remove debris as a part of Operation Fiji Assist on Koro Island

In the wake of Tropical Cyclone Winston, the international community responded to a request from the Fijian Government for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

The Fijian National Disaster Management Office led and coordinated the relief response, closely supported by the Republic of Fiji Military Forces. Defence provided support to Australia’s whole-of-government contribution in the form of Operation Fiji Assist 2016.

In a timely and well-planned response, Defence established a joint taskforce to coordinate the shipment of humanitarian and disaster relief stores by sea and air to Fiji and to synchronise efforts on the ground with the Republic of Fiji Military Forces.

Central to Australia’s efforts was the amphibious assault ship HMAS Canberra, which deployed to Fiji on 1 March on its first operational deployment since being commissioned in November 2014.

Canberra arrived off the coast of Fiji’s capital, Suva, to take on board additional Australian aid supplies already delivered by the Royal Australian Air Force. It brought with it 60 tonnes of emergency relief supplies, three MRH-90 helicopters and around 760 Australian Defence Force personnel comprising engineers, carpenters, electricians and plumbers.

The Air Force conducted more than 40 C-17A Globemaster and C-130J Hercules sorties between Australia and Fiji, while the Army’s 16th Aviation Brigade successfully completed its first operational deployment of the new MRH-90 helicopter.

Defence’s contribution highlighted Australia’s ability to help in ways not possible only two years ago. New amphibious ships, coupled with an existing strategic airlift capability, mean Defence can now deliver aid supplies, personnel and equipment more efficiently and effectively across the region.

During a visit to HMAS Canberra with the Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama thanked the Australian Government and its people for their efforts and especially the Australian Navy, Air Force and Army for assisting Fiji in what was a trying time.

Key accomplishments

  • At its peak, approximately 1,000 Defence personnel deployed on Operation Fiji Assist
  • More than 114 tonnes of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief moved ashore by landing craft from HMAS Canberra
  • More than 140 tonnes of aid, including food, shelter kits, tents, construction materials and humanitarian supplies, lifted ashore by helicopter from HMAS Canberra
  • Emergency repairs to nine schools, three medical centres, five community centres and four churches
  • Approximately 340 assessments of infrastructure conducted by Australian Army engineers with Fijian civilian and military experts