By Cmdr. David Turner, Royal New Zealand Navy
Commanding Officer, HMNZS Canterbury (L 421)
It is exciting for any commanding officer of a naval ship to be involved in a Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise, but right now I find myself thrilled to bits to be the commanding officer of Her Majesty’s Royal New Zealand Ship Canterbury (L 421). This is the first time that the Royal New Zealand Navy has sent an amphibious support ship to take part in RIMPAC, so it’s a great opportunity for us all to demonstrate the unique capabilities and functionality that our ship brings to this multinational exercise. It is just so professionally rewarding for us to work closely with other nations, other navies and so many different ships, submarines and aircraft. RIMPAC provides an exceptional opportunity for relevant and realistic training which varies from humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR) response to maritime security.
It is with this is mind that on the morning of Friday, July 11 the ship responded to an HA/DR task given to us by the Japanese Defence Ship Ise (DDH 182), which was in charge of our task group. The scenario we were exercising was that a small Pacific island had been hit by a cyclone and a United Nations HA/DR effort had been initiated. Our job was to deliver the relief stores that we had embarked prior to sailing from Pearl Harbor. After waiting for the United States Coast Guard Ship Waesche (WMSL 751) to confirm that the area was safe to enter, we sailed in closer to land. This both reduced the time it would take to land the stores but also kept Canterbury in calmer seas, ensuring the operation of disembarking stores was conducted as safely as possible.
Once the ship was in a sheltered position, the crew began the routine task of craning the two landing craft mediums (LCMs) over the side and into the water. At 58 tonnes each, it takes a significant number of ship’s company to man all the key positions, especially the steadying lines that are used to keep the LCM from becoming unwieldy during the launch. Even in a calm sea, these heavy vessels can have a tendency to swing if not properly handled. Fortunately, under the skilful crane operators and the watchful eye of my executive officer, the operation was conducted in textbook style. Next, the LCMs had to be loaded with supplies, which in this case were two cargo containers and a US Army Humvee vehicle. Once again, craning anything over the side of the ship into the waiting LCMs at sea is a challenge. But on this occasion, the stores had to be craned from the cargo deck, through an opening on the flight deck and then over the side into the LCM. Strong arms and sturdy bodies were required to steady the containers as one by one they were lifted from the cargo deck. Manuevering the containers through the opening in the flight deck is a bit like threading the eye of a needle without touching the sides whilst sitting on a swing in the park. And even then it’s not over – the containers then needed to be placed precisely on a designated spot within the moving LCM. No small achievement, but thanks to the skills and determination of all concerned, the job was completed safely.
Once the first LCM had left the ship to proceed ashore to drop off its vital cargo, attention was turned to load the second LCM with the Humvee. To load the second LCM, we lowered the stern ramp and drove the vehicle straight off the ship’s cargo deck and straight onto the waiting LCM. Once the vehicle was secured, the second LCM departed for shore.
This evolution is only a very small part of RIMPAC. However, even within this evolution, we can see examples of interoperability between nations; the Japanese controlled the evolution and the United States Coast Guard provided protection of the ships and ensured the approach channels to the designated landing site were safe.
We are all enjoying our RIMPAC experience so far – it has been great to train and learn from our multinational partners with the aim of continuing the development of New Zealand Defence Force Amphibious Task Force elements and ensuring interoperability of maritime, land and air assets.