HMAS Tobruk has completed its mission in the Philippines and is returning to Australia with a load of Army engineer machinery, vehicles and 35 Army personnel.
A small Recovery Support Force of 65 combat engineers, tradesmen and support personnel, mostly from Townsville’s 3rd Combat Engineer Regiment, will remain in Ormoc for a further week to continue clean-up and repair tasks coordinated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Philippine Government.
Commander of Joint Task Force 630 Lieutenant Colonel Rod Lang said the departing engineers and HMAS Tobruk’s crew had achieved their mission to help with the Philippines’ recovery.
“Today the heavy engineer equipment has completed its task – it’s no longer required in Ormoc City due to the progress being made and HMAS Tobruk has completed good work in the region delivering World Food Program aid to some isolated islands that had not yet received aid locally,” Lieutenant Colonel Lang said.
He said the drawdown of Australian military assistance comes as the Philippine Government was returning to normal operations and further international aid assistance was arriving.
“The local government and the Philippine Government are well and truly on top of this recovery in the Ormoc region.
“Key infrastructure, such as schools, hospitals and power, are gradually being restored – which are all key indications the time has come for our military forces to begin to return home.”
Since commencing operations on November 28, the work of Australian Government staff, Army engineers and Navy sailors has cleaned-up and repaired 13 schools, ensuring 175 classrooms were available for use by students. This has allowed about 14,500 students to return to classes since schools re-opened on December 2.
Lieutenant Colonel Lang said the remaining soldiers and Air Force personnel in Ormoc would be hard at work next week to help the Philippines Education Department return more children back to school, before commencing final preparations to return to Australia by air on 20 December.
The Air Force component, operating C-130J aircraft, will support the transition of the Joint Task Force and ongoing relief operations before returning to Australia before Christmas.
HMAS Tobruk departed for Townsville on December 9 and is expected to arrive on December 18. The engineer machinery and vehicles will be offloaded and prepared for future contingencies. The ship is expected to arrive in Sydney on December 24.