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Weapons stolen from Australian navy vessel
Agence France-Presse in Sydney
A balaclava-wearing intruder stole a cache of weapons from an Australian navy vessel on Friday after overpowering a seaman, officials said, in a security breach the military described as “concerning”.
The Australian Department of Defence said the infiltrator “overwhelmed a duty member onboard a patrol boat” which was moored at HMAS Coonawarra, a naval base in the northern city of Darwin in a night raid.
“The intruder overpowered the duty member, accessed the vessel’s armoury and removed a number of weapons,” it said in a statement.
“The person then departed the vessel with the weapons.”
Police said two pump-action shotguns and 12 pistols were stolen by the intruder, who was wearing a balaclava and military-style clothing and who they said “appeared to have good knowledge of the vessel”.
Police Commander Richard Bryson said the raider overpowered and restrained the leading seaman who was on watch on the HMAS Bathurst patrol boat, but it was not known whether he accessed the boat from land or by sea.
The seaman, who suffered only minor injuries, was able to eventually remove the cable ties he was bound with and raise the alarm.
Bryson said while 14 weapons had been stolen, the magazines that matched the guns were not taken.
“Unless there’s been some further assistance or intervention we’re confident that the weapons are not capable of being utilised at this point in time,” he told a press conference in Darwin.
Navy chief Vice-Admiral Ray Griggs ordered an investigation into security on all naval ships and bases in the wake of the incident, which was also being probed by the Australian Federal Police.
“It’s certainly a breach of security and it’s a very concerning one for me,” Griggs told Fairfax radio, adding that it was the first breach of its type on an Australian navy vessel.
He said the assaulted crew member had his life threatened but was recovering well.
HMAS Coonawarra, where the Royal Australian Navy bases most of its 14 Armidale Class patrol boats, was placed in lock-down Friday, with police searching all vehicles leaving the base.
Darwin is a vital navy port and the centre from which Australia conducts border control operations, with about 600 naval personnel in the area, many working at sea in border protection.
The HMAS Bathurst is one of 14 patrol boats that provide the navy’s principal contribution to the nation’s fisheries protection, immigration, customs and drug law enforcement operations.
In the event of war the highly capable and versatile warships would be tasked with controlling waters close to the Australian mainland.
Tropical Darwin is a key defence hub for Australia, with rotating US Marines based in barracks outside the city since April this year as Washington looks to deepen its presence in Asia.