HMS Sutherland, a Royal Navy Type 23 frigate on a deployment to Asia Pacific, stopped in the Eastern Indian Ocean to honor the sunken Royal Australian Navy cruiser HMAS Sydney.
The wreck of the wartime cruiser HMAS Sydney lies off the west coast of Australia and 500 miles northwest of Perth.
Sydney was lost with all 645 men aboard, the only allied warship in the six years of war sunk with all hands.
Sutherland is the first British warship to visit Australia in five years – and the first Royal Navy vessel to pass over the wreck of the Sydney since it was discovered a decade ago.
So the Plymouth-based frigate paused on her journey to the naval base at Fremantle to pay her respects with a dawn service of commemoration for the crew of the Sydney and the 82 men of the German merchant raider Kormoran killed in the same encounter.
“The battle between HMAS Sydney and the Kormoran is a tragic story in the history of the Royal Australian Navy – and for us all as fellow mariners,” said Sutherland’s commanding officer Commander Andrew Canale.
“As we were passing the site of these historic wrecks – and as the tenth anniversary of their find approaches – it felt right to pay our respects to those who fought and died in World War 2.
“HMS Sutherland is about to embark on three weeks of exercises with the Royal Australian Navy, so it is also a timely reminder of the deep bonds that exist between our two navies.”
Sutherland is on a lengthy deployment to Australia and the Pacific Rim. She is due to arrive in Fremantle on Friday, the first of four ports she’ll visit in the Commonwealth country.
South China Sea stint
Once the frigate wraps up activities with the Royal Australian Navy, it is scheduled to sail towards the South China Sea. Once there, Sutherland is expected to challenge China’s territorial claims in disputed areas of the South China Sea, as announced by the UK defense minister Gavin Williamson during a two-day visit to Sydney and Canberra this week.
The defense secretary did not specify whether the frigate would sail within 12 miles of the disputed shoals or artificial structures as US warships regularly do during freedom of navigation operations.
Responding to Williamson’s announcement, China’s foreign ministry said that a ll countries were “entitled to the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea as per international law.”
“We hope that relevant parties, especially non-regional countries, could respect the efforts made by regional countries to safeguard peace and stability in the region. As I said last week, when the South China Sea is enjoying gentle breezes and calm waves, there shall not be any attempt to set winds blowing and waves rolling,” foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said.