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Submarine at Station Pier

The Bay is calm on these late autumn mornings. The protrusion of a dark shape reveals that a submarine is at outer east Station Pier.

The submarine is HMAS Rankin, the sixth and final Collins class submarine to be built. It was commissioned in 2003. The submarine moves on electric power supplied by banks of batteries charged by three on-board diesel generator sets. It is on a good will visit from its home base in Western Australia and to interest people in naval careers.

The submarines were built by ASC (Australian Submarine Corporation) which continues to maintain and sustain them at the Osborne Naval shipyard in South Australia. ‘Sustainment’ appears to be a term used in defence, involving the provision of in service support, including repair and maintenance, engineering, supply and replacement parts, configuration management and disposal action.

The submarine now at Station Pier is named after Lieutenant-Commander Robert William ‘Oscar’ Rankin, commander of HMAS Yarra II. On 4 March 1942, south of Java, a convoy being escorted by Yarra was attacked by several Japanese warships. Despite brave attempts to protect the convoy and during the fierce action, LCDR Rankin was killed on the bridge by shellfire, and Yarra was sunk.

There were only 13 survivors from the crew of 151.

Each March, descendants of the crew gather at the HMAS Yarra II memorial at Newport to remember them.

This week, MIAL, (Maritime Industry of Australia Ltd), is hosting a conference in Brisbane themed Blueprint for a Maritime Nation. MIAL is raising its voice to remind decision makers that this island nation is critically dependent on shipping for our daily needs, manufacturing, industry and agriculture.

Labor’s campaign platform for the 2020 election included a commitment to developing a strategic fleet. COVID revealed our vulnerability to disruption in supply chains. In disasters such as floods, roads connections may be broken, making coastal shipping an important alternative. Growing instability in our immediate region highlights the importance of having our own maritime capability..

In government, a taskforce was convened, recommendations made and a government response made.

The policy is to increase the number of Australian ships by up to 12. These ships will be Australian flagged, Australian owned, and operated commercially by full Australian crew. These vessels could be called upon by the government (requisitioned) in times of need.

As we have learned in other contexts, setting targets is hard enough, but implementing them is even harder. MIAL’s role is to elevate the importance, and urgency, of addressing the many barriers that exist to developing the strategic fleet. Training is hugely expensive. Even finding opportunities for trainees to have the required amount of time at sea is difficult, according to MIAL’s CEO Angela Gilham.

Australia used to have its own shipping line, ANL (Australian National Line), formed in 1956. ANL pioneered RoRo (roll on roll off) with the Princess of Tasmania, a combined passenger and cargo ship, at the emerging Webb Dock. This was the first berth of its type in Australia., and at the time of launch, the the largest vessel built in Australia. Some of the engines for ANL ships were built in Port Melbourne, at the Commonwealth Government Engine Works in Bain St, where Beacon Cove is today.

Princess of Tasmania Port of Melbourne Quarterly July to September 1974

This entry in the State Library of Victoria catalogue sums up the exciting beginnings of ANL and its decline: ‘ANL was at the forefront of innovation in bulk shipping, RoRo vessels and containerisation, also in the redesign of ports and terminals. Many of its 110 ships were built in Australia. Its impressive record of achievement eventually became overshadowed by financial woes, poor industrial relations and a difficult relationship with government that culminated in the sale of its container business to French owners CMA CGM in December 1998.’1

Part of the reason for its demise was the difficulty for a small player like ANL to compete in the international container shipping market.

In days gone by in Port, the visit of naval vessels was a common, rather than an occasional, sight. HMAS Rankin’s visit connects us with past conflicts as well as to the future direction of Australia’s national defence strategy.


HMAS Yarra II Australian War Memorial

Maritime Industry Australia Ltd

Maritime Strategic Fleet

1 catalogue entry for ANL: a fleet history of Australian National Line 1957 – 1999 Howard Dick [editor]; [authors] Iain Steverson, Mike Carolin, Barry pemberton, Lindsay Rex, Rex Cox, Russell Priest State Library of Victoria


  • And many of those ANL vessels had engines built at the Commonwealth Government Marine Engine Works in Bain Street Port Melbourne

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