NZ finally receive Australian-built OPV

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The Royal New Zealand Navy has finally taken delivery of its latest offshore patrol vessel, the NZ$90-million 85-metre, 1600mt, HMNZS Otago, built by Australian shipbuilder Tenix, now BAE Systems Australia. But the ceremony came two years later than anticipated after New Zealand refused to accept delivery of the vessel after finding it did not meet all contract specifications, including exceeding design displacement.

The ship was eventually accepted on February 18 this year and the claim was made that the weight issue would not stop it from patrolling in Antarctic waters. More trouble followed however. Media reports noted last month the ship developed problems in both engines during sea trials, and had to limp back to port in Australia, instead of arriving in Auckland as originally planned.

The nation’s defence department in a statement says Otago and her sister ship Wellington – due or delivery this month – “will deliver substantial new capability” to the RNZN. The ships can go further offshore, stay at sea longer, and conduct more challenging operations than New Zealand’s other patrol vessels. This will enable the RNZN to conduct extended patrol and surveillance operations around New Zealand, the southern ocean and into the Pacific.

The Offshore Patrol Vessels will work closely with government agencies including the Ministry of Fisheries, Police, Maritime New Zealand and the Department of Conservation around the New Zealand coast, in the Pacific and Southern Ocean. The primary tasks of the new ships include:
— Maritime counter-terrorism.
— Surveillance and Reconnaissance.
— Surface contact detection, identification, interception and boarding.
— Apprehension and escort of vessels.
— Maritime Search And Rescue (SAR),

After arriving at Devonport HMNZS Otago will have additional military equipment fitted and then the crew will undertake a period of training to work the ship up to full operational capability. The class will be armed with a single remote controlled MSI DS25 Stabilised Naval Gun with 25mm M242 Bushmaster cannon and two 12.7x99mm machine guns. A Kaman SH-2 Seasprite helicopter can be carried and can be armed with a combination of homing torpedoes, depth charges, Maverick air-to-surface missiles and machine guns. The ship is named in honour of the province of Otago and will be associated with the city of Dunedin. The previous HMNZS Otago (F111), was a Rothesay-class frigate, similar to the South African President-class, serving in the RNZN from 1960 until 1983.

The 22-knot Otago and Wellington was acquired under the NZ$500 million Project Protector. They are the last of seven ships ordered to be delivered.

BAE Systems Australia from last April delivered four 55-metre Lake-class Inshore Patrol Vessels (IPVs) to he RNZN. Built at a cost of NZ$143 million, the New Zealand Herald reported at the time the IPVs (Taupo, Pukaki, Hawea, Rotoiti) would be used for maritime surveillance, including customs, fisheries, conservation and police work. They would also have a role in disaster relief. The ships boast a 340mt displacement, a 25 knot maximum speed and a range of up to 3000nm. They are armed with three 12.7x99mm machine guns. Accommodation is for a crew of 20, 12 additional personnel, and four government agency officers.

The delivery of the IPV was also plagued by problems. The NZ Herald reported the lead ship, the HMNZS Rotoiti failed her safety tests when trialled in May 2008 and required further work.

The seventh,and largest ship was the NZ$177 million multi-role vessel HMNZS Canterbury that entered service in June 2007. She has a 9000mt displacement, is 131m in length and is capable of 19 knots. Accommodation is for a total of 360 personnel; a crew of 53, 10 flight personnel, four government agency officers, a permanent team of 7 Army personnel, plus provision for 35 trainees and 250 embarked troops. The vessel was built at the Merwede shipyard in Rotterdam and was launched in February 2006. She entered service in June 2007 and has the same armament as the Otago.

But the Canterbury was also beset with problems – an independent report estimated it needed another NZ$20 million to correct some defects. One of the primary causes for the delays with all vessels was the rigid hull inflatable seaboats carried by the ships, which had to be replaced by the contractor after problems arose with them on the Canterbury.

Editor’s note: South Africa is currently contemplating a similar acquisition under Project Biro.

Project Protector has become a “good example of a bad example” and could be seen as a case study of “how not to do it”.

Pic: HMNZS Otago