Random Analytica

Random thoughts, charts, infographics & analysis. Not in that order

Tag: PNG

Mefloquine Dispatches: Peacetime in PNG (11th January 2023)

Reflecting the frustration at the treatment of veterans exposed to mefloquine my psychologist reached out to Richard Marles, the recently appointed Minister for Defence and Deputy PM and asked a question about Operation Baritone (March 1997).

The member of Richard Marles staff who responded might be unaware of the Company Group (3/97) that redeployed from Shoalwater Bay to Townsville at short notice. He wouldn’t know about the late-night review of your will and the death photo taken in the old hospital block. Nor blood pressure checks and the RMO signing off on your trip to war on the soldiers back in front of you. Picking up your seven magazines. Loading a pouch full of M26s. Inoculations in front of the Hercules. Lariam tablets being passed man-to-man. Briefings which talk about the rioting, the PNGDF in mutiny, South African mercenaries, Rascals, and the possibility of heavy casualties. The smell of excitement and fear as the clock moves from 24hrs Notice-To-Move (NTM) to 12hrs NTM. It would have been better than the Wild Bunch.

This message shouldn’t be coming from me. You should have been contacted as part of the Use of the Quinoline anti-malarial drugs Mefloquine and Tafenoquine in the Australian Defence Force investigation in 2018. In fact, members from 3 RAR were initially contacted by the Department of Veterans Affairs in relation to a 1996 deployment to Vanuatu. It was quickly shut down and muffled.

If you are reading the bad news here, I’m sorry if you are getting the message from me.

The Butchers Bill – Company Group 3/97

If you redeployed with the Company Group from Shoalwater Bay at the end of Exercise Tasman Thrust 97 and ended up waiting for the Hercules at Garbutt while we were staging, then you were given a Mefloquine Loading Dose (MLD). Don’t bother checking your medical records as it wasn’t written down. I had to prove my exposure via Red Cross records (I basically caught a lucky break).

Here is how you can check if you were given a Mefloquine Loading Dose as part of Company Group 3/97. If you got typhoid on the 22nd of March 1997 then you got an MLD as well. I distinctly remember getting 3-4 injections behind those planes. Check your vaccination records. Here is a personal example.

Battalion Group – 1 RAR

I was at Garbutt and had no visibility of this. However, the Australian Government decided to activate the Battalion Group. Once activated it is very likely the RMOs started the vaccination process including anti-malarial treatments. I’d be checking your medical records as well.

For confirmation here is Tony Wright’s 20th anniversary write up of the Sandline Affair. Via the Sydney Morning Herald (circa 2019). From the Archives: Gunpoint in PNG; mercenaries evacuated. Excerpt:

The Federal Government placed a crack Army battalion on heightened alert in a contingency plan to evacuate 12,000 Australian citizens from Papua New Guinea as rebel troops bundled the remaining mercenaries out of the country.

Late last night, 55 mercenaries were put on a chartered Air Niugini jet to Hong Kong.

The confrontation between PNG’s rebellious defence force and the Prime Minister, Sir Julius Chan, over his aborted plan to use the mercenaries in the Bougainville conflict moved towards a showdown yesterday.

A Battalion Group is not just made up of Grunts. Things were moving very quickly. Some thoughts. Signals and medics were on the first two planes (so you would also be exposed). Airforce personnel assigned would all be exposed. Possibly a 3 RAR company? Certainly SF. Apparently four naval ships were assigned to the initial deployment. If in doubt, double check your medical records.

To the Lost.

30. Mefloquine Dispatches: The Sandline Affair, 21st March 1997

On the 25th Anniversary of the Sandline Affair I thought it might be worthwhile to publish a couple of items I came across during my mefloquine research. The first is an article originally published on the 21st March 1997 by the Sydney Morning Herald. From the Archives: Gunpoint in PNG; mercenaries evacuated. Excerpt:

The Federal Government placed a crack Army battalion on heightened alert in a contingency plan to evacuate 12,000 Australian citizens from Papua New Guinea as rebel troops bundled the remaining mercenaries out of the country.

Late last night, 55 mercenaries were put on a chartered Air Niugini jet to Hong Kong.

The confrontation between PNG’s rebellious defence force and the Prime Minister, Sir Julius Chan, over his aborted plan to use the mercenaries in the Bougainville conflict moved towards a showdown yesterday.

The sacked military commander, Brigadier-General Jerry Singirok, who still holds the loyalty of most of PNG’s 4,700 troops, rejected the compromise plan by Sir Julius to hold an inquiry into the mercenaries plan, claiming it would be rigged.

Also:

Australian troops have been on alert for the past two days and are ready to move if the crisis worsens. Troops at the First Royal Australian Regiment in Townsville have packed stores, and Hercules transport aircraft at the RAAF base at Richmond have been readied.

It is understood the main purpose of the alert is to have troops ready to assist Australians in PNG if law and order collapses. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has warned Australians to stay away from PNG’s capital if possible.

The second link is a 20-minute documentary via the ABC and journeyman.tv shot in March 1997 from the ground in PNG with some extraordinary footage. To view: The 10 Days That Shook Papua New Guinea.

970321_Still_ABC_PNGRiots

Synopsis:

This report offers a dramatic overview of the events which triggered Papua New Guinea’s 1997 constitutional crisis. Jerry Singirok, the commander of Papua New Guinea’s Defence Force, was sacked for calling the government out for corruption and for spending over $40m on mercerises for the war in Bougainville. Troops loyal to Singirok revolted and seized control of the main military barracks in the country, creating a huge rift between the government and the army. Meanwhile, protests erupted in the country’s capital Port Moresby, with civilians demanding Prime Minister Julius Chan’s resignation. After MPs voted to keep Chan as Prime Minister, the army joined the protesters in storming the parliament building. Eventually Chan back down and resigned. Filming the chaos first hand, and following a pilot in the military, ABC Australia captures the turmoil that changed the fate of Papua New Guinea, and asks whether Singirok and the army’s actions defended or damaged democracy in the country.

Hotlines

22. Mefloquine Dispatches: Mil Mi-24, 2016

Using 1998/99 cabinet papers Andrew Probyn from the Australian Broadcasting Commission has put together this piece on the fate of the Russian gunships owned by the Sandline mercenaries at the heart of the ‘Sandline Affair’. Secrets of how Russian attack helicopters came to Australia revealed 20 years later. Extract:

The $50 million deal, signed in January 1997 to the horror of the then Howard government, would have seen foreign mercenaries flown in to destroy the Bougainville rebellion, using second-hand military equipment.

But two months later, on March 27, 1997, Australia agreed to a request from the PNG government to accept custody of the gear bought by PNG from Sandline.

“The PNG government was concerned about the delivery of the equipment to PNG in the uncertain political circumstance that prevailed at the time,” then defence minister John Moore wrote in his confidential cabinet submission.

At the time of the controversial purchase the PNG armed forces had a helicopter fleet consisting of five Bell UH-1 Iroquois of which only one was serviceable. At the time of the ‘Sandline Affair’ they had cannibalised the other ‘Hueys’ to empty shells.

The Australian Government then agreed to take the Russian helicopters (2x Mil Mi-24 and 2x Mi-8 transports) on the 27th of March 1997 as the PNG Parliament began to sort out the mess after Prime Minister Chan cut and run. There was also a cache of other fixed wing aircraft that Sandline had purchased, and the PNG government kept but were never used in combat.

What happened to the two Mil Mi-24 helicopters? 19-years later they were quietly buried in a Darwin dump (apparently riddled with asbestos). Via the ABC. Russian-built Mil Mi-24 attack helicopters buried in Darwin dump. Extract:

It is an unlikely setting for the final chapter of an international diplomatic scandal, but Darwin’s waste dump holds an extraordinary secret beneath the surface.

“A few years ago, we had a couple of shipping containers turn up here that were required to be buried,” Nik Kleine, the City of Darwin’s executive manager of waste and capital works, said.

The containers had arrived from the Royal Australian Air Force base at Tindal, near Katherine. “We were alerted that [there] were aircraft in those containers,” Mr Kleine said. Until now, the specific details of the aircraft remained a mystery outside the Defence community.

But the Defence Department has confirmed to the ABC the aircraft buried in the hazardous waste section of the tip in 2016 were two Russian-made military attack helicopters.

The Mi-24 Hind gunships had been part of a saga known as the Sandline Affair, which made international headlines in the late 1990s.

Picture: ADF Serials Message Board

14. Mefloquine Dispatches: SGADF, 26th September 2019

The date mentioned in this letter, the 16th August 1996 is completely wrong. No date was actually written by the RMO because it was all moving so quickly. The soldier in front of me was used as a writing board, and then it was my turn and then the next. 100-odd strong.

That said, thanks to the Surgeon General, ADF for her letter of support.

My Request to Darren Chester (Final)