A third of New Zealand’s Navy ships are docked over lack of crew
By Nick Lee-Frampton
Three of the Royal New Zealand Navy’s nine ships are now docked at the Devonport naval base indefinitely, due to insufficient personnel.
The 279-foot offshore patrol vessel HMNZS Wellington is now the third ship to enter a period of idleness, joining the Navy’s other offshore patrol vessel HMNZS Otago and one of the two remaining 180-foot inshore patrol vessels HMZNS Hawea.
Chief of Defence Force Air Marshal Kevin Short declared the move would free up engineering personnel amid a workforce attrition. Placing a ship into care and custody will consolidate the workforce and allow better management of the effects of attrition, he argued.
Asked if the decision would enable the rest of the Navy’s fleet to remain operational, a service spokesperson said “…that depends on several factors.”
“If the current attrition rate of 16.5% can be arrested, it is expected [that we] will have sufficient sailors to operate the rest of the fleet,” the spokesperson said. “However, there remains a level of uncertainty until this attrition rate is reversed. This requires several initiatives to take effect, including addressing the widening gap between our sailor remuneration and what the highly competitive job market is offering.”
But the pay is not necessarily the major reason for attrition rates, according to independent defence consultant Gordon Crane.
“Many of the personnel ordered to manage quarantine facilities during the COVID epidemic subsequently resigned,” Crane said.
New Zealand sold two inshore patrol vessels to Ireland in March. At the time, Chief of Navy Rear Adm. David Proctor said the two remaining ships (four were built in total) provide important training and command opportunities for junior officers.
Now only one inshore patrol vessel — the HMNZS Taupo — remains available, although it has a full work program scheduled for next year, a Navy spokesperson said.