Australia is planning to procure an additional humanitarian and disaster relief ship to bolster the Royal Australian Navy’s amphibious capability, defence minister Stephen Smith and Defence Materiel minister Jason Clare revealed.

The third ship could be a commercial off-the-shelf vessel, which will be modified and used primarily to transport troops and supplies during humanitarian and disaster relief operations.

The purchase of a third ship will ensure the amphibious capability required by the navy until the delivery of the Landing Helicopter Dock ships in the middle of the next decade.

Further detailed decisions on the purchase of the additional ship will be taken in the near future; however, the vessel will be manned under a civilian crewing arrangement and will enter service in 2012.

The Australian Government had already approved a proposal to buy two amphibious ships, HMAS Choules and HMAS Tobruk, for induction into its fleet.

The navy had also leased the Subsea Operations Vessel (SOV) Windermere to enhance its capabilities, especially during the cyclone season from 14 October 2011 to 31 January 2012, with an option until the end of February 2012.

The 260ft-long Windermere, launched in 2010, features a 12.8t helipad, a 15-man saturation diving system and a unique diesel-electric powerplant, and has a displacement capacity of 4,750t.

The New Zealand Navy also selected Windermere to provide operational requirements as part of the joint Pacific-focused Ready Response Force.