Australian shipbuilder Luerssen Australia has started building the Royal Australian Navy’s (RAN) fifth Arafura-class offshore patrol vessel (OPV), Illawarra.

The start of the OPV’s construction was marked by a keel-laying ceremony held in Henderson, Western Australia.

During the event, Australian Navy Capability head rear admiral Pete Quinn performed the traditional ritual of placing a coin under the new vessel’s keel.

National Naval Shipbuilding deputy secretary Tony Dalton said: “A keel laying is an important naval tradition that brings good luck to the build of the ship and the life of the vessel.

“We welcome this major milestone in the delivery of Australia’s future Arafura-class OPVs.”

The future HMAS Illawarra is being constructed as part of Australia’s Naval Shipbuilding Programme.

As the prime contractor and designer of the Arafura-class OPV programme, Luerssen Australia is under contract to build 12 OPVs.

The company has partnered with ASC OPV Shipbuilder to build the first two OPVs in South Australia and with Civmec Construction to develop the remaining ten.

The ten vessels are being built at Henderson Maritime Precinct, Western Australia.

The second OPV is currently in the outfitting stage, while the first vessel was launched in December last year.

Dalton added: “This programme will contribute to continuous naval shipbuilding, creating Australian jobs and assuring the long-term sustainability of this key Australian industry.”

Once completed, the 12 OPVs are expected to replace the RAN’s existing Armidale-class and Cape-class patrol boats.

The new vessels will feature tactical uncrewed aerial systems, sensors and command and communication systems.

They will primarily be used to conduct maritime patrol operations.

Earlier this year, Norwegian company Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace was contracted to provide naval strike missile (NSM) capabilities to the RAN.

The NSM will replace the existing Harpoon anti-ship missile on the RAN’s Anzac-class frigates and Hobart-class air warfare destroyers.