THE RFNS Puamau, a Republic of Fiji Navy patrol boat, has run aground on a reef near Fiji’s Lau islands during its maiden assignment.

The Fijian navy’s official Facebook page confirmed on 12 June that the grounding incident had occurred while the vessel was midway through a two-week patrol tasking.

On 13 June the Navy confirmed that the crew of the Puamau had been safely evacuated and were on route to the Fijian capital Suva, as their primary focus now turns to conducting salvage operations for the vessel.

The Guardian-class vessel was gifted to the Fijian Navy by the Australian government in March this year at a ceremony in Western Australia. It was the 19th vessel of its kind that shipbuilder Austal had delivered for the Australian government.

The vessel is the second Guardian-class patrol boat delivered to Fiji under the Pacific Patrol Boat Replacement Project.

The Australian Defence Force assisted at the site of the incident with aerial support.

“Additional recovery equipment and resources are being mobilised, including specialist equipment from overseas, to facilitate the safe removal of fuel and stores before initiating vessel extraction from the reef” the Fijian Navy said in one of the Facebook posts, anticipating the equipment to arrive for the coming weekend.

They emphasised that the challenging conditions of the Fulaga passage where the vessel is currently grounded underscored the need for thorough planning with salvage experts to “address any contingencies”.

A team of Navy divers and engineers were reported to be effecting temporary fixes and devising strategy for the removal of fuel from the vessel, with aerial and surface assessments confirming an absence of fuel spillage.

Once fuel and stores are safely removed, the Navy says they will look to initiate vessel extraction from the reef.

The Fijian Navy extended their gratitude to the ADF, the Australian Government, the Pacific Maritime Security Program, stakeholders, and the villagers of Fulaga Island for their support.