THE knowledge that he is at the forefront of the battle against piracy and illegal drug and firearm smuggling is enough to keep Ipswich sailor Gary Cooper motivated during gruelling stints away from his growing family.
Leading Seaman Cooper, a member of the Royal Australian Navy for the past 11 years, is a storeman onboard the 118m-long Anzac frigate HMAS Toowoomba, which is part of a coalition of armed forces patrolling the Indian Ocean.
Among their targets are serious drug traffickers, and this was proven in late March when the Toowoomba was involved in the seizure of half a tonne of heroin worth an estimated $100 million off the coast of Tanzania.
The Australian Navy combined with the Canadian warship HMCS Toronto to track and then board the contraband-carrying ship.
While unable to talk at great length about the operations of his 192-strong crew, Leading Seaman Cooper said it was an honour to be a part of the mission – code-named Operation Slipper.
“We are sitting just off the horn of Africa right now,” Leading Seaman Cooper said via telephone.
“Once or twice a week we will come across something that requires further investigation, but lately it has been relatively quiet for us.”
It may sound strange to the casual observer, especially given the serious job at hand, but Leading Seaman Cooper said crew members generally craved routine during months at sea.
The ship left the coast of WA on December 28 and, during the mission, will make rest visits at ports like Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Mombasa every few weeks.
As a storeman, the Ipswich born and bred sailor is responsible for preparing the ship for each trip out to sea – looking up engine parts and arranging supplies.
“Most of my work is done before we leave the port,” he said.
“Life at sea can be mundane, so you try to get into a routine where you look forward to things like going to the gym and having your meals.
“I joined the Navy straight after I left school because I saw it as a great way to travel and make a living.”
The HMAS Toowoomba will continue its missions off Africa until June, when it is due to return to Perth.
Until then, Leading Seaman Cooper will continue relying on emails and the occasional phone call to keep in contact with his wife and nine-year-old son – who are now based in WA. He said he was looking forward to visiting family in Ipswich in July.