CENTRAL Queensland residents will soon have access to an Australian first when the HMAS Gladstone opens for public tours.

The 42 metre, 230 tonne vessel was commissioned by the Royal Australian Navy in 1994, and with 14 other Fremantle Class patrol boats, it contributed to fisheries protection, immigration, customs, drug and law enforcement operations.

The vessel sat in the Gladstone marina after it was decommissioned in 2007, until 2014, when businessman Ron Harding heard of plans to make it an artificial diving reef.

 

A drone photo of the HMAS Gladstone at East Shores. Picture: Rodney Stevens
A drone photo of the HMAS Gladstone at East Shores. Picture: Rodney Stevens

 

A diver with more than 40 years experience, Mr Harding took the vessel to his slipway to prepare to put it on public display, being the only known former navel vessel with such public access.

Since then, Gladstone Maritime Museum president Lindsay Wassell and his committee have been preparing it for its public unveiling.

Part of achieving this, Mr Wassell said, was gaining access to the engine room, by removing the vertical ladders and installing a staircase, which Mr Harding funded, costing $20,000.

"The ship is powered by two turbocharged 16 cylinder engines producing a total of 6000 horsepower," Mr Wassell said.

"It was capable of up to 30 knots or 55km/h and used 1200 litres of fuel an hour."

 

Twenty-four sailors worked and lived on the vessel which was built in Cairns, Mr Wassell said, while it patrolled Australian waters, out to Vanuatu and Fiji.

"It is equipped with high definition navigational radar, high and ultra frequency communications equipment, gyro compasses and echo sounder," navy documents state.

"The vessel worked hand-in-hand with other government agencies and each year provided up to 1800 patrol days as part of the Coastwatch-managed national surveillance effort.

"In the event of a war they would be tasked to control the waters close to the Australian mainland."

 

Flynn MP Ken O'Dowd, LNP candidate Ron Harding and Senator Matt Canavan near the 40/60 Bofors general purpose gun on the HMAS Gladstone.
Flynn MP Ken O'Dowd, LNP candidate Ron Harding and Senator Matt Canavan near the 40/60 Bofors general purpose gun on the HMAS Gladstone.

 

With the vessel equipped with a Bofors 40/60mm general purpose gun, mounted on the stern, the public will be able to see and feel what is was like to be a sailor protecting the nation.

Due to COVID-19 heath restrictions, the opening of the vessel to the public was delayed from March 21.

The finishing touches are now being applied, Mr Wassell said, in preparation for the public to go on board at a date to be set.