Largest ever Navy ship welcomed with haka

updated By Jessica Tyson

The largest-ever Royal New Zealand Navy ship made a grand entrance to New Zealand today.

HMNZS Aotearoa is a replenishment ship launched in April last year in Ulsan, South Korea.  It was due to arrive in New Zealand earlier in the year but there was a delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Today the 26,000-tonne tanker arrived in the Waitematā Harbour amid a flotilla of yachts, accompanied by Air Force flybys from two C-130 Hercules, and was met with a haka, a military brass band and hundreds of onlookers onshore at the Devonport Naval Base.

Defence Minister Ron Mark says the investment in Aotearoa totalled $493 million.

“A once-in-a-generation purchase and the work it will do supporting our Pacific Island partners, supporting our five eyes partners, supporting our strategic partners all over, wherever that may be, will be priceless in the long run, will be priceless in terms of the lives that she will save, priceless in terms of the villages the communities that she will support and priceless in terms of the pride that she will bring to New Zealand.”

The navy deputy chief, Commodore Melissa Ross of Ngāpuhi, says the ship will open up many more opportunities.  

“One for our people and then two for our country,” she says.

“If you're on board one of the ships you'll see some of the chefs, you'll see some of the seaman combat specialists, technicians, all sorts of trades that we have in the Navy and we'll have a number of those people on the ship.”

Aotearoa boasts state-of-the-art design and capability features including ice-strengthening and ‘winterisation’ features for operations in Antarctica. The ship can carry up to 22 containers of supplies and produce 100 tonnes of fresh water each day, particularly useful when providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief.

Seamanship combat specialist Shannon Makiha, of Te Arawa says it will be awesome to have a  tank' again that also has added capabilities.

“This is one of the first ships from my trade where I will be able to do everything in my trade so I’m excited to progress myself as well as for our country.”

Leading the 100-strong haka to welcome Aotearoa today was Able Staward Luther Paniora-Prescott, of Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Porou and Tongan descent.

“I didn’t expect our trainees to come through. There were about 100 of them that came in at the last minute. It was pretty good. Just coming up here bringing the ship home for the first time is good.”

For commanding officer and captain of Aotearoa, Simon Rooke, it will be a highlight of his career being a kaitiaki of this taonga.

“Firstly it’s the name, the name Aotearoa, which means so much to us and that brings a higher degree of mana that anybody could possibly imagine," he says.

“She’s a new capability beyond that of a normal naval fuel tanker because she can go into the ice regions of Antarctica in the summertime, she’s got a massive range and logistic capability for us and of course her, combined with the rest of our fleet will provide a potent capability for dealing with the problems in our region that we've encountered especially around natural disasters and resource protection.”

The ship’s formal naming ceremony was held in Ulsan, South Korea in October 2019.

Aotearoa will provide global resupply of ship and aviation fuel, dry goods, water, spare parts and ammunition to New Zealand, coalition maritime, land and air units and United Nations security operations.

She was named by the Governor-General of New Zealand, and ship sponsor, Dame Patsy Reddy. Aotearoa has replaced the fleet tanker Endeavor, which was decommissioned in December 2017 after more than 30 years of service.