Dili and the Pirates
HMAS Jervis Bay and the Military Potential
of Aluminum Catamarans
The U.S. military was, quite frankly, stunned by what that vessel could achieve. Personnel
from the Seventh Fleet who encountered the vessel during East Timor peacekeeping
operations had simply never seen the like of it.1
In 1520, Portuguese traders searching for sandalwood trees found the island of Timor and claimed it for King Manuel I in Lisbon. Portugal's attention to the island was slight over the next several centuries, and its sovereignty over the eastern halfwas confirmed only in the 1859 Treaty of Lisbon with the Netherlands (which controlled West Timor and the rest of the East Indies). In 1974, after a long period of administrative neglect, a rising separatist insurgency movement, and the fall of Marcelo Caetano's dictatorship, the Portuguese government abandoned the colony, recognizing it as an independent state. Rivalry between opposing political parties, however, soon led to civil war. In September 1975, Indonesian troops began moving in, and the Indonesian government under General Suharto annexed the territory as its twenty-seventh province in 1976.2 The combination was not a harmonious one: while Indonesia was a large, Muslim, polyglot country under military dictatorship, East Timor had less than one million people, was 92 percent Roman Catholic, and had little connection to the military authorities in Jakarta 1,300 miles away. Unsurprisingly, guerrilla resistance to Indonesian rule continued for years.
After Suharto's dictatorship fell in 1998, his successor, President B. J. Habibie, offered the Timorese a choice between autonomy and independence. On 30 August 1999, 80 percent of voters chose the latter. Shortly thereafter, angry Indonesian soldiers and freelance unionists went on the rampage, sacking what they could. At sea, this could be called piracy; on land, it was mere mayhem. On 12 September, Australian troops began arriving in Dili, the capital, to reestablish order. The first ship to moor alongside the decrepit (and now damaged) port facilities was an aluminum-hulled catamaran car ferry that had been hurriedly chartered from the Tasmanian shipbuilder Incat (International Catamarans) by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) expressly for the purpose. Now painted haze gray with a hull number, HMAS Jervis Bay (named