On Feb. 20, Cyclone Winston struck the South Pacific island country of Fiji. With winds faster than 100 miles per hour, Winston was the most powerful cyclone to ever make landfall in Fiji. The storm uprooted trees, flattened buildings and knocked out power and communications. Forty-two people died.
The governments of New Zealand and Australia are leading the international effort to assist Fiji in the wake of the storm. The Australian navy sortied its new flagship, the light aircraft carrier HMAS Canberra, on the vessel’s first operational mission. Canberra sailed from Brisbane on Feb. 25 carrying 880 people, three MRH-90 helicopters, Army engineering equipment and 60 tons of humanitarian supplies. “This capability will assist Fijian authorities to clear debris, restore power, purify water and conduct engineering assessments,” according to Australia’s foreign ministry.
Threading the dissipating tendrils of the cyclone en route to Fiji, the 757-foot-long Canberra — which commissioned into Australian service in late 2014 — will join an multinational task force including New Zealand’s amphibious ship Canterbury and patrol ship Wellington and aircraft from the Australian and New Zealand air forces.
Canberra is Australia’s biggest-ever warship. Sister ship Adelaide commissioned in December. Based on Spain’s Juan Carlos, the Canberra-class vessels can, in theory, accommodate short-takeoff “jump jets” such as Harriers or F-35Bs. But Australia has no plans to acquire jump jets. At present, Canberra and Adelaide function only as assault ships and helicopter carriers.