A job well done: HMAS Darwin returns home | PHOTOS

Commander Terry Morrison’s quarters on board HMAS Darwin hold several reminders of home.

After sitting down with the Magnet during the warship’s overnight stop in Twofold Bay on Thursday, he points one of them out.

It’s a drawing, given to him by his five-year-old daughter, Hailey.

“They’re buttons,” he explains with a laugh, pressing against the different shapes on the piece of paper as if he’s dialling a phone.

“When she gave it to me, she said, ‘It’s so you can call me, daddy’.”

For Commander Morrison and his crew of around 200, the time spent away from their families is the hardest part of life at sea.

But it’s because of their love for their families, and their country, that they serve.

Now back in Australian waters and sailing towards Sydney, they’re a world away from where they’ve just been.

Click on our gallery above for photos from HMAS Darwin's Eden stopover, and the Sydney homecoming.

Tasked with combatting illegal shipments of narcotics in the Middle East over the last seven months, Darwin’s list of achievements is as long as your arm.

The ship is the 57th rotation of Australian warships to take part in Operation Slipper since the start of the Gulf War in 1990, working alongside 33 other nations as part of the Combined Maritime Forces.

Flying out under the cover of darkness, Darwin’s Seahawk helicopter would use its infra-red camera to detect possible smuggling vessels, before returning to the ship.

The crew then decided which vessels to target, boarding 23 in total during their mission, and finding illegal narcotics hidden on eight of those.

Their seizures netted a total of 12,370kg of illegal drugs, with an estimated street value of $2.16billion.

One of these operations, a 14-hour boarding of a cargo dhow off Kenya which uncovered 1032kg of heroin, with an estimated value of $290million, was the largest ever amount of the drug captured from a vessel on the high seas.

HMAS Darwin's inflatable boats approach a suspicious dhow off Kenya, on which they found and seized 1032kg of heroin from smugglers. The haul, discovered in April, is the largest ever on the high seas and in Combined Maritime Forces history. Photo: Department of Defence.

HMAS Darwin's inflatable boats approach a suspicious dhow off Kenya, on which they found and seized 1032kg of heroin from smugglers. The haul, discovered in April, is the largest ever on the high seas and in Combined Maritime Forces history. Photo: Department of Defence.

“We believe that a substantial amount of the proceeds from these smuggling operations go towards the funding of terrorist organisations,” Commander Morrison said.

“I remember looking at something like 9/11 and thinking, ‘Gee I wish I could do something to prevent that’.

“We can now say that we have done something; we’ve stopped some of the money going into terrorist organisations.

“Every kilogram counts; one little bit of a time is how you fight that sort of extremism and save lives.”

That’s what it’s all about for HMAS Darwin.

While talk of record hauls and estimated street values gets bandied about, Commander Morrison says human life is always the priority.

It’s this mindset that the Navy prides itself on, and it’s why some of the most incredible stories from their latest deployment have nothing to do with their assignment.

“We, as a Navy, have a mission to do, but when we come across a stranded mariner or someone who needs our help, we always provide that assistance,” he said.

“Wherever we can provide that sort of assistance, we will go; that’s something not many people here about.

“One of the first things we did on this deployment was rescue 11 Iranian fishermen and two minors off Pakistan.

“They had been holding onto their wreckage of their vessel for five days after another vessel had struck it.

“There was another one we did, where we got a call that a man had suffered a heart attack on a French fishing vessel over near the Seychelles.

“It took us three hours to get there, going full steam ahead in poor conditions, but using our aircraft, we were able to provide medical assistance.

“Safety of life at sea for all mariners is a very important thing.”

Saturday morning signalled the end of a long journey for Darwin.

After an exhausting seven months away, a large crowd turned out at Garden Island in Sydney to welcome the crew home at 10am.

“The ship’s company are very keen to see their families and to get back home,” Commander Morrison said on Thursday.

“But until we arrive we’ll be focused on the job, and making sure everything’s safe on our route there.

“Once that’s done and we’re finished, we’ll worry about the rest of, but they’re excited; I’m excited.”

HMAS Darwin seized 315 bags of hashish, weighing more than six tonnes, off the coast of Africa, on June 28. Photo: Supplied

HMAS Darwin seized 315 bags of hashish, weighing more than six tonnes, off the coast of Africa, on June 28. Photo: Supplied

The plaudits for Commander Morrison and his crew will be many.

It’s not every day you come home after making a record drug bust.

But he stresses that it everything Darwin has achieved has been the result of a team effort.

“We’ve had significant success, but we needed to use the information and assistance of our Combined Maritime Force, and on the Australian side, Command Joint Task Force 633.

“A lot of information has been built up over time; we’re the 57th rotation of Australian ships to go over there, but we’ve got a coalition of ships.

“It’s like a policeman walking the beat; you begin to notice the things that are different, and the things that are going on.

“Over that period of time, our intelligence and knowledge of the patterns of life has built up; so we got a very reasonable idea of how it all works thanks to the information that was passed on to us.

“We’ve got a team going through all the time, and HMAS Toowoomba has sailed now on operations.

“We’ve given them as much information as we can, and I hope that they continue on with the success that we were able to achieve.”

For now, HMAS Darwin enters its regular maintenance cycle, giving the men and women of the crew a chance sit back and have a welcome break in the country they’ve helped defend.

They’ve earned it.

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