Being caught up in action and drama aboard a naval ship made for an exciting visit when the Royal New Zealand Navy ship HMNZS Canterbury arrived in Tauranga on Friday.
Dwarfed by two cruise ships nearby, the HMNZS Canterbury is a multi-role vessel – MRV - that can deploy personnel, vehicles and cargo using conventional port infrastructure or using landing craft, boats or helicopters.
“It could be pestilence, maybe a famine, you may see some guys in yellow hoods dealing with flames,” says Commander David Fairweather, who was on board with 20 of his Maritime Operation Evaluation Team. They were there to assess the capabilities of the crew.
“The reason the ship is in Tauranga, and not in Devonport, is that it helps us create an effect of being overseas. We can test through a whole lot of scenarios as though we are in a foreign country. We can use Tauranga as a port to simulate those things.”
I looked around for signs of pestilence. Already I had twigged that I was to be part of one of the navy scenarios. Around the deck a long hose snaked out.
“The best way to stop people coming on board is to hose them with salt water,” says David.
“It's not going to hurt them but makes them wet. If someone wants to force themselves through a fire hose they are probably wanting to do something nasty to you.”
HMNZS Canterbury in Tauranga.
David spoke into his microphone, quietly deploying his team to set up the next simulation.
“In this scenario it's a low threat port where they're coming in to refuel and resupply and give their people a break, but at the same time we'll be having all sorts of things happening and a low level threat,” says David.
“That's what the rest of my team are doing, they're going away now and preparing for a whole bunch of things that are going to be happening today.”
The Canterbury had been in the Hauraki Gulf, carrying out exercises practising the core skills a navy ship is expected to do.
The visit to Tauranga over the weekend was to prepare for deployment to Raoul Island.
“We'll be testing a variety of situations,” says David about the weekend's exercises.
“Like doing a search and rescue for a shipping vessel that's drifting towards the rocks and help rescue them. Testing the gun. Training to help her deal with all instances on board such as fire and flood.
"Training her to deal with contingencies such as electric faults and losing the galley. How will she deal with keeping food going? This ties into humanitarian functions such as feeding Lyttelton. We'll be testing all the competencies you'd expect any ship to be able to do.”
The next scenario was due to commence. It involved media training for crew members.
We headed to the bridge, clattering up the metal steps and looking briefly into one of the cabins which sleeps 12 crew.
It's a little bit like climbing a wide lighthouse. The stairs are really more like ladders, and some of the doors can come with knee high barriers to step over. The ship appears far larger on the inside than it is from the wharf below.
David recounted the amusing story of some of the army who had been on board getting lost looking for their cabins, so they obligingly relabelled the corridors with Christchurch street names.
“We want our people to be seasoned media professionals,” said Dave. “Part of what the Canterbury does is of high public interest, helping during times of emergency, cyclones and other disasters, so it's important that the team aboard feel comfortable and practised at talking with media.”
Lieutenant Commander Emma Broederlow
Up on the bridge, the ship's second-in-command, Lieutenant Commander Emma Broederlow came forward ready to talk about the purpose of the ship's visit. I was more interested in learning how she came to be involved in the navy.
“I originally was going to join the police force,” says Emma. “My initial plan was to get into criminal psychology or forensics but eye surgery changed that path. I had to re-evaluate what I wanted to do because that had been my childhood plan.”
She saw an advertisement for the navy on television one day that resounded with her.
“To this day I can't describe what that is but there was something about the thought of being part of an organisation like the navy and what they stood for that really appealed.
“So I joined and to be honest I didn't really know that much about it but there was something about the organisation that matched what I thought was important in life.”
Emma was 25 when she joined the navy.
“I'd gone to university and done psychology. There's not a direct link between what I did at university and what I'm doing now but it makes me think about people and behaviour.”
Her background seems to be a valuable contribution to the skills that make for a better leader, especially faced with the scenarios that the ship has been busy enacting out over the Tauranga weekend.
“When you think about what the navy is. It's a whole bunch of people all working hard towards a common goal. If you want to get the best out of them you've got to understand people I think. So, surprisingly I found it quite useful to have that as a background.”
Emma has been in the navy 14 years.
“Of that time I've probably spent about three to four years total training,” she says.
“Not all in one go, it's been split over that time, which indicates that the organisation provides the coaching and the training that people need to get to the level where they are and it's sort of sliced out through the different layers of your career.”
Progression up through the initial ranks is a fairly standard process, with a lot of it being time-bound, so younger people are not pushed through too fast.
“There's always the balance between wanting to develop people as well as wanting to give them the opportunity to be good at what they're doing. So with training initially, there's a lot of time element to it. They have to do a certain number of days at sea, or do a certain number of courses and get qualifications. And they get time to go to sea and consolidate those new qualifications.
“So it's pretty standard initially, but then when you get to a certain level, then it becomes about your performance, so there is that subtle shift on what it is that the organisation is looking for.”
Emma grew up in Taupo, then moved to Hamilton to study at Waikato University.
“In Taupo the biggest presence is of course the NZ Army,” she says.
“I was a Girl Guide so on Anzac Day whenever I had to parade it was always Army that was there. There was never representation from the other services, so to join the Navy was quite unexpected.
“I love working with people. I'm a collaborative type person and I live to work with others, to hear other people's opinions, insights and perspectives. I'm fascinated by others' thinking sometimes and I've learned over the years to take that as a real positive. It's real important, that diversity.
“For the ship to make good decisions, for us to recommend good decisions to the Commanding Officer - CO - we need to have had a good look at it from a lot of different perspectives, and that's a really fascinating process although it can be quite frustrating sometimes when someone disagrees but actually it's a robust way.
“If you can give people an opportunity for their voices to be heard then that's actually very powerful.”
This attribute appears to contribute to good morale on board.
“Their opinion is important,” says Emma, talking about the crew. “And they're more likely to express it if we ask, and it doesn't matter what their rank is. It could be one person who has got a unique perspective that actually is a key piece of information that could totally change the effectiveness of our outcomes.”
In the ship scenarios being enacted during the practice training, as well as the day to day work, Emma compares her role to being ‘the glue', or the connecter.
“If I do my job well, that means that people talk, and that means that information is flowing up and down.
“The Commanding Officer needs information in order to make the decisions and my job is to take the lead on making sure that information is flowing. And if it's stopping somewhere, if there's a barrier, we need to identify why.”
Emma has visited about 25 countries during her service. One had a significant impact.
“The most powerful time was when I got to go to Japan,” recalls Emma, “and I went to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”
During World War II, the American atomic bombings of these two Japanese cities made Nagasaki the second, and to date, last city in the world to experience a nuclear attack.
Able Marine Technician Justin Priestley
Navy ships need to be able to move at a moment's notice. As an Able Marine Technician Justin Priestley is trained to be an expert in the field, making a major contribution towards ensuring the ship is always ready to sail.
Justin grew up in Pyes Pa and attended Aquinas College. He left school at Year 12 and then went traveling the world for a year before joining the Navy in 2015.
Able Marine Technician Justin Priestley.
“I've been in the Navy for two years and have been on the HMNZS Canterbury for seven months,” says Justin.
“My dad was a Navy man himself. He's a trainer and assessor right now but he used to be in the Merchant Navy so he gave me a good insight into what it would be like in the Navy.”
The marine technician's role is a vital hands on one, covering the care of diesel engines, jet engines and on board electrical power generation. Justin is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the ship's engines, as well as additional equipment and systems that contribute toward the ship's ability to 'float and move'.
Up on the bridge, one of Justin's colleagues joked that he would have a nose bleed just making it up to the bridge, as his normal place of work was down in the engine rooms near the bottom of the ship. This time we take the lift down.
Justin has a sister at university and a brother at high school.
“It was Dad's stories that got me thinking. And then I went on the NZ Navy website. I like engines so I chose the right trade for that, and went through the application process.”
All of Justin's training as a marine technician has been through the Navy.
As modern warships contain more sophisticated technology and a greater range of equipment than a jet aircraft Justin has to operate and maintain a wide range of equipment including: diesel engines, gas turbines (jet engines), electrical power generation, power distribution systems, remote control and monitoring of machinery - via an IP network known as an ‘Integrated Platform Management System', hydraulic and pneumatic systems, refrigeration and air conditioning plants, sewage treatment plants, desalination equipment -making fresh water from sea water, liquid storage, hull and internal fittings.
“There's an array of qualifications we do as a marine technician which allows us to work on any vessel,” says Justin.
The training programme also develops core skills of digital literacy, problem solving, communication skills and team work, all necessary for the types of scenarios that the ship could find itself involved in.
Most of the time Justin is based in Devonport, living on board ship, in a cabin with three others.
“You get used to everyone and you get used to the space that you have and everyone works around it,” he says.
“You get used to it after a while. I usually get the weekends off but we have duties where one person from my trade would stay behind and look after the ship and make sure nothing breaks down.”
At sea the watch times are different from when the ship is based at port. At sea Justin normally starts work at 8am and finishes at 4pm. One in every five days he starts work at 6am, finishing at 4pm. Cleaning and doing rounds every four hours are part of his watch on board.
In the seven months he's been on the HMNZS Canterbury, Justin has been with the ship to Sydney, Tauranga, Wellington and Kaikoura.
This coming week the ship is off to Raoul Island for more training exercises.
“You get paid to travel and you get to learn a trade,” says Justin, talking about what he loves about the job.
“I love working on engines and getting my hands dirty and making sure the ship's ready to go whenever the command would like it. I love working as a marine technician, it's hands on work and you get to travel while you're at it.”
David Fairweather leads us on past the ships canteen, and more cabins and ladders until emerge on the deck where the Canterbury has landing craft attached to each side of the ship, with a 60 ton crane ready to put them in the water.
Through another door and we enter the cargo and vehicle area, a large space that also houses a Seasprite helicopter.
“In the islands there are no port facilities, so we can't get in by landing craft,” says David. “So we can take in the Seasprite helicopter.”
There are 8 helicopters in the NZ Defence Force.
“Having a naval helicopter is a huge asset as it can survey a large area and see what emergency services are required and where quite quickly,” said David. “A search and rescue vessel can go into an area and the helicopter can then survey a large area around the vessel.”
The next scenario was about to commence. David talked mysteriously into his lapel.
“You may hear some stuff going on, I can't tell you otherwise my team here will hear what's going on too,” he grins. “You may see some guys in yellow hoods and maybe some flames coming up. I can't confirm or deny that, they could be dealing with a pestilence, I don't know, maybe a famine, I don't know. Something.”
The media van appeared. David looked disappointed as it meant I had to leave the ship.
“You're going to miss out on all the fun now,” he says. “Hopefully next time we'll come into town with a slightly bigger boat.”
As I left the driver pointed out that smoke was starting to pour out of somewhere on the ship. The radio started crackling with calls about the fire service.
Seasprite on board the HMNZS Canterbury.