June 2012: SOPAC sojourn
By LT LIZ LEWER
During June, HMNZS CANTERBURY conducted a month long deployment to the South Pacific (SOPAC) Islands of Apia, (Samoa), Rarotonga, (Cook Islands), Nuku'alofa, (Tonga), and Noumea (New Caledonia).
Departing Devonport Naval Base on 5 June 12, headed north to warmer waters with CANTERBURY were 29 on-the-job trainees (OJTs) onboard and a number of tasks to complete along the way, including regional defence diplomacy activities and support to Government aid tasking.
During our first port of call to Apia, the ship opened to the public with over 200 people visiting in four hours. This included several reporters who interviewed the CO, Commander Sean Stewart, which made the local papers and the television evening news.
On departing Apia, CANTERBURY spent some valuable in-company time with HMNZS OTAGO for Officer of the Watch manoeuvres and SCREEN exercises for the trainee Officers of the Watch. This was made difficult by the weather which closed in several times making visual observations very sketchy.
Warm weather and postcard views welcomed Ship’s Company as we anchored off Rarotonga, making the front page of the local newspaper. The CO conducted official calls on the local Police Commissioner and Deputy High Commissioner for New Zealand. The crew enjoyed two full days of Rarotongan hospitality including paddle boarding, diving and snorkelling, and bargain hunting in the night markets.
In Nuku’alofa, CANTERBURY delivered two retired Mark 1 Skippy Army jeeps from the NZDF Trade Training School Logistics Regiment to the Tongan Defence Service (TDS). The jeeps had previously operated in Tonga and were being returned for the last time as display items by the TDS. We also transported a brand new Jeep Patriot from New Zealand for the NZ Immigration Office, and a bathroom suite for the NZDF Warrant Officer Technical Adviser’s official residence in Tonga.
In addition to these items, 20 members of Ship’s Company, led by LT Tim Oscar, RAN, formed a worker-bee group to paint walls and play volley ball, soccer and touch rugby with the students of St Andrew’s School in Nuku’alofa. CDR Stewart also hosted a luncheon onboard requiring a guard of honour, with Guard Commander SLT Payton Kaiwai, RNZN, for Brigadier General Tau’aika, Commander TDS.
CAN finished her SOPAC deployment with a relatively quiet, but enjoyable visit to Noumea. The Fleet Plan allowed us to fit in a much needed weekend stopover in Auckland at the end of June to catch up with family and friends. On 2 July we headed off to the eastern EEZ of NZ for a month of sovereignty patrols in the cooler climates of Dunedin and the Chatham Islands.
Picture: Members of Ship's Company with St Andrew's High School students.