Naval association badge

Nepean Naval and Maritime Museum


- Museum Home - Frigate Index - NAA Sub-Section Home -

HMAS Adelaide FFG 01


HMAS Adelaide crest
HMAS Adelaide FFG 01 was the lead ship of the Adelaide Class of guided missile frigates built for the Royal Australian Navy, based on the United States Navy's Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates.  She was built in the United States of America and commissioned into the RAN in 1980.

Her displacement was 4,100 tons, her length was 138.1 m (453 ft) overall and her beam was 13.7 m (45 ft).  She had a draught of 7.5  m (25 ft), and she was capable of 29 knots (54 km/h; 33 mph) over a range of 4,500 nautical miles, or 8,300 km (5,200 miles) at 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph).

She had a complement of 184, including 15 officers, not including aircrew.

Her sensors and processing systems included an AN/SPS-49 air search radar, a surface search and navigation radar, a SPG-60 fire control radar, a Mark 92 fire control system, and an AN/SQS-56 hull-mounted sonar.

Her Armament consisted of one Mark 13 Missile Launcher for both Harpoon and Standard missiles, two Mark 32 torpedo tubes, one OTO Melara 76 mm naval gun, one 20 mm Phalanx CIWS and up to six 12.7-millimetre (0.50 in) machine guns, plus two M2HB.50 calibre Mini Typhoons that were fitted as required.  She also carried two helicopters.

For more information on her design and construction, See the Adelaide Class Frigates page in the Frigates Index.

Operational history

After commissioning, Adelaide and Canberra remained in the United States to work up; during this time both ships were attached to the United States Navy's Destroyer Squadron 9. 

The frigate ran aground off Seattle in early 1981, during post-commissioning trials, but was freed with only minor damage.

HMAS Adelaide
HMAS Adelaide

Click on nthe image for a better view.
Following the decommissioning of the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne in 1982 and the disbandment of fixed-wing aviation squadrons in 1984, the RAN Fleet Air Arm became focused on helicopter operations, but had minimal experience flying helicopters from small ships.  To remedy this, a Bell Kiowa was embarked aboard Adelaide during 1984. 

Adelaide was awarded the Gloucester Cup for being the most efficient ship in the RAN during 1984.

In May 1987, Adelaide visited Fiji, and was alongside in Lautoka when the first of the 1987 Fijian coups d'état occurred on 14 May. Adelaide and sister ship Sydney, alongside in Suva, were instructed to remain off Fiji to aid in any necessary evacuation of Australian citizens; the first component of what became Operation Morris Dance.  Adelaide remained on station until at least 29 May, when a phased withdrawal began.

Video Clips

Adelaide Firing

HMAS Adelaide seen from HMAS Hobart

Scuttling of Ex-HMAS Adelaide


On 3 July 1990, Adelaide became the first Australian warship to visit Tahiti since 1970.  On 10 August, Adelaide, her sister ship Darwin, and the replenishment ship Success were deployed to the Middle East as part of Operation Damask, Australia's participation in the international coalition enforcing sanctions against Iraq following that nation's invasion of Kuwait.  Adelaide and Darwin remained in the area until 3 December, and was used for surveillance and boarding operations.  In October 1992, Adelaide's home port was changed to HMAS Stirling, making her the first ship of the class homeported in Western Australia under the Two-Ocean Policy.

In January 1997, the yachts Thierry Dubois and Tony Bullimore (competitors in the 1996–97 Vendée Globe solo, round-the-world yacht race), capsized while attempting to cross the Southern Ocean.  Adelaide successfully found and rescued the sailors after seven days of searching by ship and aircraft. 

During late May and early June, the frigate was deployed to the Philippines, and represented Australia at the Philippines Centenary International Naval Review.

Between 17 and 27 May 1998, Adelaide was one of four RAN ships placed on standby, in case Australian citizens required evacuation if the Indonesian riots of May 1998 escalated, hoqwver, the ships were not needed. 

Starting in September, the frigate accompanied the destroyers Hobart and Brisbane on a cruise through South East Asia.  During this deployment, the ships were present at a naval review by Indonesian president Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie.

In February 1999, Adelaide was awarded the Duke of Gloucester Cup, awarded to the most efficient ship in the RAN during the previous year.  The frigate was deployed to East Timor as part of the Australian-led INTERFET peacekeeping taskforce from 19 September to 19 October.

On 6 October 2001, Adelaide was the ship which intercepted SIEV 4, the event which sparked the Children overboard affair.  Under orders to prevent SIEVs from entering Australian waters, Adelaide attempted to warn the craft, carrying over 200 passengers (including children), against crossing from international waters during the night and into 7 October.  When the SIEV failed to heed these warnings, Adelaide fired warning shots and initiated a RHIB boarding action, with the boarding party taking control of the craft that afternoon. 

Between this time and when the craft was manoeuvred from Australian territory late the next morning, several attempts were made to sabotage the craft, and some adult passengers jumped or were thrown overboard while others threatened to do so; the fourteen people that entered the water were recovered by the frigate's RHIB and taken back to the SIEV.  Adelaide observed the craft as it headed towards Indonesia, and moved in to provide further assistance a few hours later, after systematic sabotage immobilised the small vessel.  Adelaide was instructed to take the vessel in tow and head for Christmas Island. 

The SIEV began to take on water during the afternoon of 8 October, and despite the appearance that the problem had been rectified, the craft sank without warning at 17:00.  All aboard were forced into the water, and were rescued by personnel from Adelaide. Reports of the sinking were conflated with information about those who jumped or were thrown overboard the day previous to give the impression that the threat of throwing children overboard had been made or carried out, a story that was later proven false but taken up at the time by the Howard Government during the lead-up to the 2001 election to support their campaign promises to tighten border controls and immigration.

From November 2001 to March 2002, Adelaide and the amphibious warfare ship Kanimbla were deployed to the Middle East as part of Operation Slipper, the Australian contribution to the War in Afghanistan.  The ships also contributed to the continuing enforcement of the Iraq sanctions. 

Adelaide was deployed on border protection operations on multiple occasions until early 2004.

Adelaide returned to the Middle East from July 2004 to January 2005 as part of Operation Catalyst, the Australian contribution to the reconstruction of Iraq following the United States-led invasion in 2003.  During this deployment, in December 2004, several gunboats of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard attempted to capture a boarding party after it had inspected the freighter MV Sham, which had grounded near the Iraq-Iran maritime boundary. 

After completing their inspection, the boarding party returned to their two RHIBs, but were approached by an Iranian gunboat.  The boarding party climbed back aboard Sham, took up defensive positions, and, according to BBC reporter Frank Gardner, "warned the Iranians to back off, using what was said to be 'highly colourful language'."

During the next 45 minutes, four more gunboats arrived, and the stand-off  lasted for four hours before the Australians were evacuated by Adelaide's Seahawk helicopter.  No shots were fired during the incident, and two of the Australians were later awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for their conduct during the stand-off. 

The Australian Defence Force did not immediately report the incident to the media, as they felt no need to highlight it, and the attempted capture our sailors did not come to light until July 2007, when Gardner wrote about it following the capture of 15 British personnel during a similar incident in March 2007.

A March 2010 reorganisation of battle honours awarded to RAN ships saw Adelaide retroactively honoured for her service with INTERFET ("East Timor 1999") and during the War in Afghanistan ("Persian Gulf 2001–02").

Battle Honours

East Timor 1999 and Persian Gulf 2001–02, plus two inherited honours

Decommissioning and fate

Adelaide was originally scheduled to be paid off in November 2006, but delays with the project to upgrade four of Adelaide's sister ships required that she be kept in service for another fourteen months to minimise the impact on the fleet.  Adelaide was decommissioned on 19 January 2008 at HMAS Stirling, before she was towed to Sydney and given to the New South Wales Government, which planned to sink her as a dive wreck off the coast near Terrigal: the first military ship dive wreck in New South Wales.   After spending time alongside at HMAS Kuttabul, Adelaide was towed to White Bay at a point prior to November 2009.

The ship was prepared for scuttling during late 2009 and early 2010: her mast (which would have become a navigational hazard once the ship was scuttled) was removed, dangerous materials and toxins were removed, and access holes were cut in the ship's flanks. The ship was scheduled to be sunk on 27 March, 1.7 kilometres (1.1 mi) offshore from Avoca Beach, New South Wales, in 32 metres (105 ft) of water. 

Local resident action groups campaigned to prevent the scuttling, claiming that the wreck would affect tides and littoral sand drift, and that the removal of chemicals and hazardous materials in the ship had not been thorough enough, with the chance that marine life and people could be poisoned.

An appeal by the protest groups to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal three days before the sinking saw the project placed on hold until the case could be heard in full: supporters and opponents of the dive wreck agreed to participate in mediation in the meantime. The case was to be heard on 5 May, but was later postponed to July. 

On 15 September, the Tribunal ruled that scuttling of the ship could go ahead after the removal of any remaining wiring, which may contain polychlorinated biphenyls, canvas, insulation, and exfoliating red lead paint.  The delays caused by the tribunal hearing meant that the original $5.8 million assigned to the scuttling project was expended, and the tribunal hearing, additional cleanup, and berthing fees brought the cost of the scuttling project to $8.5 million.

A new scuttling date was announced on 24 February 2011 by NSW Lands Minister Tony Kelly, with Adelaide scheduled to be sunk on 13 April 2011, after the additional cleaning ordered by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal was completed in March.   Adelaide was towed from Sydney Harbour on the morning of 11 April for the voyage north.

The action group attempted to cancel or further delay the sinking of the warship, requesting that the New South Wales Ombudsman investigate the government's handling of the artificial reef project, filing a summons in the Land and Environment Court of New South Wales on the afternoon of 12 April, and asking an Aboriginal 'whale caller' to summon humpback whales to the planned wreck site.

Despite this, the sinking went ahead just before midday on 13 April, after being delayed by over an hour by a pod of dolphins inside the 1 kilometre (0.62mi) exclusion zone.  After the scuttling charges were fired, Adelaide submerged within two minutes.  While initially resting with the truncated mast sitting 18 metres (59ft) below sea level, by 2014, the wreck had subsided to put the mast 22 metres (72 ft) below; the increased depth means that potential divers must have completed an advanced adventurer course in addition to having basic scuba diving certification. 

By May 2014, just under 11,000 dive permits had been issued for the site, and local diving tour operators have estimated a fourfold increase in diver tourism compared to before the scuttling.