18 December 2018
While other Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) ships and crew are able to ease down for Christmas, it’s the opposite case for the RNZN, New Zealand Army and Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) personnel aboard multi-role vessel HMNZS Canterbury.
They have spent the past two weeks preparing for a “big day” of a different kind.
As the on-call RNZN vessel should a natural disaster occur, HMNZS Canterbury and her crew are on 48-hour notice to deploy during the summer cyclone season, if the Government gets asked to provide disaster relief.
During December, the ship trains offshore from Army Bay, Whangaparaoa, rehearsing with the ship’s two 60-tonne landing craft, Tahi and Rua. As the landing craft roll in the chop, Army drivers practise driving vehicles on and off, while RNZN coxswains and crew hone their skills in marrying the landing craft to Canterbury’s cargo and vehicle bay.
RNZN trainees become displaced persons to be “rescued” from the beach, then change roles to go back as a recovery and medical team.
In the meantime, RNZAF and RNZN helicopters lift goods from the flight deck of Canterbury, under the direction of the Army’s ship amphibious load team (SALT), and transport the loads to shore.
Canterbury’s rescue and recovery abilities have been showcased before, during cyclones Winston and Pam in the Pacific Islands, and closer to home during the Kaikoura earthquake relief effort in 2016, with more than 400 trapped tourists and residents transported to Lyttelton.
HMNZS Canterbury’s Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander Fiona Jameson, said it was the busiest time of the year for them.
“This is an assurance to the New Zealand Government that we are good to go,” Lieutenant Commander Jameson said. “If the call comes, we get on our way. We’ll go into Christmas pretty tired, but we will be safe and well prepared, with no training burden if we go on a relief operation.”
A former frigate Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander Jameson said the tempo was challenging on Canterbury.
“Frigates work hard, but they get a break. On Canterbury it can feel relentless, but ship’s company love it.
“There’s an amazing feel to Canterbury. She gets to live the integrated New Zealand Defence Force idea, where you live, breath and talk ‘joint’ forces – Navy, Army, Air Force.”
HMNZS Canterbury’s motto, Kotahitangi, means Unity.
“If you enjoy a challenge, and you joined the RNZN to stay busy and go to sea, then Canterbury is the one,” Lieutenant Commander Jameson said. “The ship finished this training on a real high. We are made for humanitarian and disaster relief, and we like doing what we train for.
“It’s okay to push people, and teach them how to manage fatigue. If we don’t train for resilience, we don’t have resilience, and we can’t deliver a mission when the balloon goes up.”