8 May 2023
The heroic actions of the crew on board HMAS Westralia 25 years ago were remembered at a memorial service at HMAS Stirling last week.
On May 5, 1998, soon after departing HMAS Stirling, a devastating fire broke out in the ship’s engine room. Despite the fire eventually being brought under control, Midshipman Megan Pelly, Petty Officer Shaun Smith, Leading Seaman Bradley Meek and Able Seaman Phillip Carroll succumbed to the smoke that engulfed the engine space.
The service last week was attended by survivors of the tragedy, along with their families and the Commander Australian Fleet Rear Admiral Christopher Smith, who paid tribute to the bravery and sacrifice shown by ship’s company and crews of supporting ships.
“Those on board Westralia fought heroically and effectively to overcome the fire that day, with the acts of bravery observed in the finest traditions of our Navy,” Rear Admiral Smith said.
“I acknowledge our Navy people and their families who were impacted by this maritime accident and remember and honour the four Westralia shipmates we lost that day.”
The resulting board of inquiry made numerous recommendations to improve safety systems across the fleet, and the Navy of today is better placed to prevent a tragedy like this happening again.
Importantly, the board of inquiry also noted “all members of the ship’s company contributed, in some way or other, in successfully overcoming the main machinery space fire and in providing good medical care to the casualties”.
This team effort was recognised with a Navy Group Commendation by the Chief of Navy in 2019.
The board found that “the dangerous and difficult fire in the main machinery space of Westralia was fought heroically and effectively by the ships’ crew. There were many acts of bravery and exceptional performance on the day”.