It has emerged that female sailors aboard the Australian navy ship the HMAS Success were warned that if they spoke out about the sex abuse "they would never speak again".
The inquiry into an alleged sex ring on board HMAS Success between March 2009 and early June of that year was told today that there were problems as soon as the ship docked at Darwin at the start of its tour of duty.
Commander Donna Muller, who was a lieutenant commander at the time and second in command of the Success, said 16 sailors failed random breath tests after brief leave in Darwin.
"We put the large number of failed breath tests down to the fact that it was the first port out of Sydney," News.com.au quoted Muller as telling the inquiry in Sydney under retired judge Roger Gyles.
"We didn't think it necessarily represented a wider cultural problem," she stated.
Commander Muller said she later heard that a junior female sailor had been sexually assaulted at Darwin.
When the Success arrived at its next port, Manila, one of its sailors damaged property at a bar in the city, the inquiry has been told.
When it stopped at Qingdao, in China, a pair of sailors from the ship allegedly took part in a public sex act.
Petty Officer Orlando Barrett and Chief Petty Officer Jason Thomas witnessed the event and encouraged other sailors to watch, Commander Muller said.
She said she had been advised by Chief Petty Officer Leeanne Nightingale that there was a bounty for sex with a particular junior female sailor, and that some of the sailors believed they were "untouchable".
At least two young women were grabbed by a man who put both hands around their throat.
Female sailors also told CPO Nightingale they had been warned not to speak out about the alleged sexual assaults or they would never speak again, Commander Muller said.
"People on board were reluctant to talk to anyone on board," she revealed.
"The atmosphere on the ship was like nothing I had experienced before," she stated.
She believed the issue "went beyond the capability of the ship" to deal with the problem.
"I didn't have faith in the commanding officer's ability to deal with matters raised," she said.
Four of the sailors - Chief Petty Officer Thomas, Petty Officer Barrett, Petty Officer Jake Thompson and Able Seaman Daniel Gordon - were forced to leave the ship when it stopped in Singapore.
Commander Muller said they were temporarily put on land because they had failed to represent the navy overseas in an appropriate manner.
"My priority was to have a ship where everyone felt safe," she added.
The inquiry is continuing.
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