Protecting our borders: No time to be bored

The ABF Cutter Cape Nelson stopped in Mackay on Friday - its final stop before returning to Cairns.
The ABF Cutter Cape Nelson stopped in Mackay on Friday - its final stop before returning to Cairns. Jacob Miley

THE consensus on board Australian Border Force ship Cape Nelson is that no two days are the same.

For 28 days at a time, a crew of 18 - a team comprised of engineers, a cook, a boarding team and a navigation team - patrols the borders to protect Australia's national security on the water.

"There is no typical day and that's the real beauty of the job," said Commanding Officer Tim Spencer, who has been patrolling the waters for 30 years.

Since July 21 the crew has patrolled the east coast, leaving from Cairns and travelling to Sydney.


Yesterday the ABF Cutter docked at Mackay Harbour for their final stop before returning to Cairns.

The patrol was aimed at detecting and deterring a range of on-water threats including prohibited imports and exports, maritime terrorism, people smuggling and the illegal exploitation of natural resources.

Commanding Officer Spencer said they stopped 136 boats between the two cities, though there were no sinister cases.

Off the coast of Mackay there was a "very large group of foreign ships" that were waiting to bring or remove cargo, which made their job very important, he said.

But they don't just check boats, there is also a scientific element to the job.

"We report any sightings of whales, dolphins or turtles to the Australian Mammal Data Base and scientists use that for research they do into the populations and the migrations of those species," CO Spencer. To date, they have had about 50 whale sightings and "a couple" of dolphin sightings.

Protecting the borders is a sacrifice:

The ABF Cutter Cape Nelson runs for 365 days a year and being on board is a personal sacrifice.

Each vessel has two crews, who each complete 28-day patrols.

"If I don't take leave I spend more time with my crew than I do my family," Commanding Officer Spencer said.

From that point of view, being a part of a crew you got along with was particularly important, he said. Operations Officer Tony Brodribb said working in border patrol on the water - you tend to become a "tight knit" unit.

"We work together but we also live together," Operations Officer Brodribb said.

"You need to be able to get along as a group... everything in terms of law enforcement comes naturally after that."

On board the vessel is a recreation room, where the crew can unwind with TV and board games.

There is even a gym on board and they do a lot of group fitness, which helps increase fitness and bonding, Operations Officer Brodribb said.

And despite being at sea for almost a month at a time, they are never bored.

"Even though 28 days is a long time, because we have a crew that are very like-minded, we just enjoy each others' company - and I just don't think there is time to be bored," he said.

Topics:  australian border force mackay harbour

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