Behind-the-Scenes Leader Steps Up as Sailor of the Year

24 October 2019

A South Auckland man whose first jobs were pushing trollies at Auckland Airport and driving a forklift has become the first Pacific Islander to be named the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) Sailor of the Year.

Acting Leading Seaman Combat Specialist Filipe Sione Malakai Latu, from Mangere, Auckland, who was named last week as the RNZN 2019 Sailor of the Year, said he was still in shock at the announcement.

He follows in the high-achieving footsteps of older brother Mark Latu, who earlier this year became the first Tongan Warrant Officer in the RNZN. It is a military family, with another brother having served in the New Zealand Army.

When his name was announced, during a ceremony at the Navy Museum in Devonport, Acting Leading Seaman Combat Specialist Latu said his body froze.

“I was in shock,” he said. “It just blew my mind. Everyone was clapping. My palms were sweating. My brother said, ‘I’ve never seen you go so pale’.”

Acting Leading Seaman Combat Specialist Latu, who joined the RNZN in 2008, was described in his citation as an exemplary sailor and natural leader who exercises influence in the background, consistently exceeding the expectations of his rank.

“I like to be the guy in the background, helping people to get the best out of themselves, but now I’ve ended up in the front. It’s still sinking in,” he said.

As a Seaman Combat Specialist he specialises in weapons, boardings, force protection, seamanship, health and safety, sea boat driving and naval ceremony and protocol. He has organised events such as multinational celebrations and meetings with foreign delegations and in his current position supervises sailor and officer trainees in parade and ceremonial drill.

After finishing schooling at Marcellin College Acting Leading Seaman Combat Specialist Latu was working two jobs, pushing trollies at Auckland Airport and operating a forklift at Lion Nathan, when his brother said, “Give the Navy a go”.

“I liked it. It was really fast-paced, I liked the set routine, and learned a lot of life skills,” he said.

As Sailor of the Year he will represent all RNZN sailors in functions and events in New Zealand and overseas, and will have the freedom to explore his own initiatives.

“I will have to balance this role with my work as a Seaman Combat Specialist and my work on the RNZN Pasifika Island Community Forum,” he said.

He will begin his tenure on 2 December.

This page was last reviewed on 23 October 2019.