11 March 2019
Taking command of HMNZS Otago was a fitting step for new Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander Ben Martin, who has a strong connection to the Otago region.
Lieutenant Commander Martin, who took command of the Offshore Patrol Vessel at a ceremony at Devonport Naval Base earlier this month, was born in Auckland but both of his parents’ families settled in Dunedin in the 1800s and his extended family still live there.
He also studied at Otago University and has happy memories surfing Dunedin’s beaches as a student.
Connections to the navy also run deep, with his grandfathers and great-uncle, from Dunedin, all serving as navy commanders. His father, Rear Admiral John Martin, was Chief of the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) when he retired last year, and his great-uncle Rob served as Executive Officer of the Frigate HMNZS Otago in 1980-82.
Lieutenant Commander Martin, 34, who is a mine warfare and clearance diving officer and a specialist in explosive ordnance disposal, said one of the things he enjoyed about the RNZN was the constant opportunity to improve himself.
“I see this posting as that – an opportunity to forge a new team and learn new skills,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting to sea and getting to know the team and the ship. It’s an exciting moment.”
He joined the RNZN in 2003 as a Reservist and Chatham Scheme Officer – where the RNZN supports three years of study – and gained a degree in Land Survey and Civil Engineering from Otago University.
“I joined the RNZN because I liked the idea of contributing to the community and travelling,” he said. “With the Navy funding my training and my degree it was attractive offer.”
He joined the RNZN as a trainee hydrographic officer and continued to excel with his early training courses – including Officer of the Watch training.
“This gave me the opportunity to join Royal Navy frigate HMS Iron Duke in the Caribbean, doing a counter-narcotics patrol, where we stopped and seized narcotics trafficked between South America and the United States.”
On his return to New Zealand in 2009 Lieutenant Commander Martin joined HMNZS Te Kaha and served as Officer of the Watch for two years, while he also completed a Ship’s Diver Course and helped out as Executive Officer and Navigator on the Inshore Patrol Vessels.
He added the Able Divers Course in 2011 and gained diving skills that led to posts and training in explosive ordnance disposal teams.
He completed the Mine Warfare and Clearance Diving Officers Course at HMAS Penguin in Australia in 2013. This involved a wide range of diving and supervision modules, as well as the six-month Explosive Ordnance Disposal Course and the Mine Warfare Officers Course.
Back in Auckland, he became Executive Officer of the Operational Dive Team, followed by a one-year posting with the RNZN’s Fleet Personnel and Training Organisation as a training officer, before serving as Officer in Charge of the Clearance Diving Group and undertaking the Command Course last year.
One of the highlights was leading the mine counter measures task unit at Exercise RIMPAC, the largest maritime military exercise in the world, in San Diego last year, he said.
“Our team took charge of six other countries and about 100 people and cleared the port and beaches of San Diego of sea mines. That was a really good challenge.”
Outside of work, Lieutenant Commander Martin is dedicated to supporting his wife Rosemary, who has just graduated as a midwife, and keeping up with their three-year-old son.
“He keeps me pretty well grounded.”
Lieutenant Commander Martin sees command as a privilege, which he doesn’t take lightly.
“It’s a role of stewardship of our people and guardianship of the ship itself,” he said.
“The motto of the ship, ‘Kaitiaki ki te Tonga – Southern Guardian’, says it all to me. This is an opportunity to live that vision – to be the southern guardian while looking after our people and the ship.”