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 3 July 2012

Postcard from the Persian Gulf

by Leading Seaman Combat Specialist Joshua Tatana


On the 5th of September 2011, I boarded a plane to Sydney as part of the Royal New Zealand Navy crew taking part in counter-terrorism and anti-piracy operations in the Middle East on board HMAS MELBOURNE.

I never thought there would be a lot of differences between the two navies. However, during the intense work-up period, I realised this could be one of the hardest things I have ever done.

Learning new operating procedures is hard enough, more so if you have to do it on unfamiliar ground surrounded by more than 200 unfamiliar faces. However, during the work-up, we became close friends with the Australian sailors on board. Once the work-up was completed, we were ready to deploy to the Middle East but fortunately, not before the Christmas break.

LSCS Tatana in the Persian Gulf: "I have learnt so much over the past few months....I wouldn't change this experience for anything."

I bid goodbye to my wife, daughter and son before we sailed to the Persian Gulf on 11 February. The first thing that hit me was the heat, which often reached 45 degrees Celsius. It makes physical training (PT) very challenging and water intake a must. The heat from the sun is so intense and makes a seven-hour watch more challenging.

The ship is constantly busy, conducting operations to support the deployment or carrying out regular maintenance. After being at sea for 25 to 30 days, everybody looks forward to port visits, when we all get a much-needed four-day break before we do it all over again.

The highlight of my deployment so far was driving three hours from the coastal city of Aqaba in the far south of Jordan to Petra, a historical and archaeological city which the BBC had described as “one of the 40 places you have to see before you die”. I rode a horse up the mountains to see Petra’s buildings, which have been carved out of the dusky pink rock face by the Nabataeans more than 2000 years ago. It was an awe-inspiring experience!

Our typical day starts at 0630 in a 66-man mess deck, where we carry out boat checks and our first PT session. If we are at flying stations, this made PT restricted and we would have to work out in what we call the “sweat box”. We hit the ground running after breakfast. After lunch, there is more PT, more work, time on the Gun Direction Platform and boardings that can last up to 11 hours. We certainly have enough to keep ourselves busy.

I previously underestimated the work needed to get the ship ready for deployment and to carry out day-to-day operations effectively. But I have learnt so much over the past few months. Without this opportunity, I would not have any idea of the immense workload that everyone on board does for the ship to run effectively. I wouldn’t change this experience for anything.

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