Out in the cold

Toby HusseyAlbany Advertiser
Derek Haayema.
Camera IconDerek Haayema.

Having endured freezing cold and battled the roughest swells, Derek Haayema hoped to receive a medal for his time protecting Australian waters with the navy in the 1990s.

However the self-described “Albany boy”, 42, was dismayed to find out last year he was ineligible to receive a service medal because he was days short of the minimum requirement.

Now he has called on the Department of Defence to overrule what he described as an arbitrary rule.

Mr Haayema served aboard the tanker HMAS Westralia during the 1997 Operation Dirk in the Southern Ocean, off Antarctica.

There, where thrashing ocean, freezing rain and ice tested naval ships and their sailors to the limit, the Westralia and a frigate patrolled the vast Australian ocean zone for illegal fishing boats.

Those illegal fishing boats were a menace to Australian businesses, targeting the valuable Patagonian toothfish, and could poach millions of dollars worth of harvest at a time.

The conditions, he said, tested even the most experienced sailors.

“It was Antarctic weather, freezing cold,” he said.

“You’ve got overalls on, underneath that you’ve got thermals, thermal socks, you’ve got balaclavas.”

During the mission RAN personnel intercepted and boarded illegal boats.

After three weeks at sea, Mr Haayema and about 300 shipmates returned to Fremantle.

The Department of Defence later struck a medal — the Operational Service Medal — to commemorate defence personnel who had served in border security missions since 1997.

It has been awarded to 18,000 people. Operation Dirk is included in the applicable mission list.

However, when Mr Haayema applied for the medal in December, he was rejected because the mission had ended seven days short of the 30-day minimum deployment time

It was a rule Mr Haayema said denied sailors acknowledgement.

“I want the generations of sailors to be recognised by their families and their friends and their country,” he said.

“They (the sailors) did their job, they did what they were asked.”

He was set to appeal for a review, but the Department of Defence has stood by its policy.

“If an Australian Defence Force member has less than 30 days service on an eligible operation, as occurred with Operation Dirk, they can only qualify for the medal by aggregating further qualifying service on another eligible operation,” a spokesperson said.

Mr Haayema said he would continue to push for the medal, and he has the support of Austral Fisheries chief executive David Carter who said the service of people like Mr Haayemasent “a very clear message” to illegal fishing operations.

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