Ship boat

‘Protesters’ target navy ship in Ōpua

The ‘protesters’ used trash cans and pallets to protect themselves from fire hoses as they attempted to storm the ship. Photo / Peter de Graaf

A navy ship was pelted with eggs and road cones in Ōpua yesterday by protesters who tried to cut the ship’s moorings with a chainsaw.

They attempted to storm the ship three times, using paddles and skips to protect themselves from high-pressure fire hoses aimed at them by ship’s personnel.

The crew eventually had to resort to guns, causing a number of protester casualties.

Luckily, it was only a drill and the shots fired were only blanks – even though there was nothing wrong with the fire hoses.

The purpose was to prepare the crew in case they were involved in civil unrest while deployed in the Pacific.

lob eggs
‘Protesters’ lob eggs in Wellington during Monday’s drill. Photo / Peter de Graaf

The “protesters” – led by a very convincing Henry Matangi, an operations warrant officer at Naval Base Whangārei – were members of the ship’s crew playing the roles of inhabitants of the fictional land of Avalon, where the Neo- Zealanders are apparently not welcome.

HMNZS Wellington, an 85m offshore patrol vessel with up to 80 crew, was on her second visit to Ōpua during her current four-week training voyage.

“Forced protection,” or defending the ship against low-level threats such as protests and unrest, is just one part of this training.

A crewman aboard the Wellington prepares a fire hose.  Photo / Peter de Graaf
A crewman aboard the Wellington prepares a fire hose. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Seamanship and fleet managing director Phil Rowe said the threat level had gradually increased over the past three weeks, culminating in yesterday’s riot by a crowd of 14.

A day earlier, the crew had been confronted by three “protesters” and two during their previous stop in Ōpua.

The idea was to protect the ship as peacefully and with as little force as possible, he said.

Commanding Officer of HMNZS Wellington Lieutenant Commander Pip Davies.  Photo / Peter de Graaf
Commanding Officer of HMNZS Wellington Lieutenant Commander Pip Davies. Photo / Peter de Graaf

The Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Pip Davies, said the ship was built in 2010 primarily for resource and water protection, in partnership with New Zealand’s Pacific neighbours.

Its other roles were search and rescue, disaster relief and the provision of humanitarian aid.

It had a top speed of 22 knots, a range of 6,000 nautical miles and was equipped with a Seasprite helicopter and two rigid inflatable boats.

A 'protester' throws a road cone at crew members aboard the Wellington.  Photo / Peter de Graaf
A ‘protester’ throws a road cone at crew members aboard the Wellington. Photo / Peter de Graaf

It’s been a busy 18 months for Wellington, Davies said.

A delivery of Covid vaccines to Tokelau was followed by fishing patrols in the southwest Pacific and a short-term trip to the Solomon Islands after unrest in the capital, Honiara.

The crew had only been home for a few weeks when the ship was sent on a relief mission to Tonga following the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcanic eruption.

In addition to protests and unrest, the crew had learned to protect the ship from floods and fires.

“We’re training for the worst. We don’t expect these problems when we go to the Pacific, but it’s better to over-train than under-train.”