In an unprecedented naval evacuation of civilians in Australia's history, the first evacuees from the fire-besieged holiday town of Mallacoota in East Gippsland have arrived at a Victorian port on the Mornington Peninsular.
HMAS Sycamore docked earlier than expected at Hastings on Saturday about 8am, carrying up to 60 people fleeing the deadly fires raging in Victoria's east.
More people will be carried to safety on HMAS Choules, which is also on its way to Hastings.
A Victoria Police spokesperson said the evacuees will be transported to nearby relief centres including Sommerville after their 20-hour journey.
"The evacuees are quite vulnerable," police said.
The evacuation operation at #Mallacoota has begun with the first group of people being transferred into Choules and MV Sycamore for relocation to Western Port, Victoria. #AustralianNavy #OurCommunity #OpBushfireAssist #AustraliaFires pic.twitter.com/WUmqmwKjNn— Royal Australian Navy (@Australian_Navy) January 3, 2020
He said the evacuation went "smoothly" and HMAS Choules, with the majority of families and holiday-makers on board, is expected to dock about 4pm on Saturday.
Both ships will resupply and head back to Mallacoota to continue the evacuation of others still stranded on the foreshore and in caravan parks as thick smoke continues to blanket the eastern part of Victoria.
Commissioner Crisp said doctors and paramedics were on the ground to treat people, saying helicopters were on standby to evacuate more people when the smoke clears.
More to come.