Busy Year For Warship With A Difference

8 January 2014
HMNZS Canterbury on EX Southern Katipo 13
HMNZS during Exerrcise Southern Katipo 13.

The high distinctive superstructure of the Royal New Zealand Navy’s multi-role vessel HMNZS CANTERBURY has become a familiar sight in New Zealand waters and ports since she joined the fleet in 2007, and the unique support she was able to provide to Christchurch from her berth in Lyttelton after the earthquake in February 2011 has left her firmly fixed in the hearts of her namesake province.

The value she adds in times of disaster, such as in Christchurch and after a tropical cyclone struck Samoa and Tonga later in 2011, is well known. Less understood outside military circles is her pivotal role in the NZDF’s Joint Amphibious Task Force. Without CANTERBURY, there couldn’t be a task force at the level the NZDF requires.

“She’s definitely a unique ship,” said the Commanding Officer, Commander (CDR) David Turner.

“We're a warship, but we’re a warship with a difference. What we’re best at is enabling other forces, particularly the Army, to deliver effect. 

“We do that efficiently and cost-effectively as well. When you compare what we can take in a single load to the equivalent in Air Force C-130 Hercules loads, it’s mind-blowing what the ship can carry. We’ve got a gun on the front, we’re a warship, but one with a specific role to play.”

Although the ship spent the first few months of the year undergoing remediation work at the Devonport Naval Base in Auckland, after completing trials, testing and work-up, she has travelled far afield carrying out Defence Force and Government tasks, as well as playing a pivotal role in Exercise Southern Katipo, the largest multi-national amphibious exercise New Zealand has ever hosted.

·      July/August: Took part in Exercise Pacific Partnership 2013 (PP13), supporting a wide range of humanitarian aid, engineering and other tasks in the Solomon Islands.

·       August: Honiara (Solomon Islands), embarking Australian and New Zealand Defence Force vehicles and stores to be brought home after the conclusion of New Zealand’s participation in the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI).

·       August/September: Cairns (Queensland) for first-of-class flying trials with the MRH90, the Australian version of the NH-90 helicopter recently acquired for the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

·       September: Port visit to Brisbane -  dropped off Australian Defence Force equipment from Honiara, co-hosted a reception with the then New Zealand High Commissioner,  Martyn Dunne, then passage to Wellington to unload New Zealand Army equipment from the Solomons, hosted Reservist of the Year function, then finally home to Devonport.

·       November-December: Exercise Southern Katipo 2013 (SK13) – CANTERBURY had a major role, moving vehicles, equipment and personnel into and out of the exercise area from the North Island, and conducting a Non-combatant Evacuation Operation out of Bluff in the final stages of the exercise.

It’s a huge range of challenging and differing tasks in a short period, but that’s “business as usual” for HMNZS CANTERBURY. And she’s frequently achieved more in less time than planned.

“For example, the programme for the flying trials was to take five weeks, then it was reduced to three, then down to two,” CDR Turner said.

“But we prepared hard for it by making sure the ship was ready in all respects to develop its aviation capability, and in the end we nailed it with time to spare.”

Although the ship herself is very special, the achievements are all about people, CDR Turner said.

“I call it ‘Canterbury PLC’ – where professionalism, leadership and communication count. Those are the three things that I concentrate on.

 “This ship provides a wonderful training environment, and that’s nurtured by the great people  on board. Creating the conditions that challenge and develop our people is fundamental to creating a happy and effective ship.”

Highlight of the year’s work? Exercise Pacific Partnership.

“For the first two weeks we were going down the western isles of the Solomon Islands delivering Army into theatre so they could make a difference to the lives and wellbeing of the villagers in these remote areas. The crew were pretty busy supporting the Army, but towards the end we were able to go ashore and see what the Army had been doing, in villages where we had made a real difference to people’s lives. It really doesn’t take a lot – running water, lights in clinics, tables in schools. It’s quite humbling.”

It’s a view echoed by many of the crew.

“Going ashore, we got a taste of why we do these things,” said Able Steward Jean Merito, from Whakatane. “It made my day, made my trip knowing that CANTERBURY was the ship that made it all happen.”

Leading Seaman Combat Specialist Gus Wells agreed. “It was doing one of the jobs the ship's for - helping out people that don't really have much.”

However, it wasn’t just PP13 that got a big tick. Lieutenant Ashleigh Payne of the Royal Australian Navy is on a two-year exchange with the RNZN, and is the ship’s Navigating Officer. Her highlight was further south, during SK13.

“Being able to exercise and train with two other New Zealand ships and a French frigate was a great opportunity and was a lot of fun. We made the most of the two solid weeks we were together and the benefits cannot be overstated,” she said.

“If next year is anything like what I’ve experienced in the past six months it’s going to be a great time to be on exchange.”  

The coming year is just as busy, starting with a long-awaited hometown visit to Lyttelton and Christchurch from 30 January to 3 February (to exercise their Charter of the city, including parading through the streets, opening the ship to the public, and supporting charity work), followed by a major naval exercise in Auckland, then away for three months, culminating in representing the RNZN at RIMPAC, the world’s biggest international naval exercise, based in Hawaii.


For more information, please contact the Defence Communications Group on 021 487 980.

This page was last reviewed on 7 February 2014.