News story

Reservists practise humanitarian disaster relief in New Zealand

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Naval reservists from 10 nations, including the UK, descended on New Zealand to practise their response to natural disasters.

Exercise Bell Buoy saw the personnel, who form part of Maritime Trade Operations, rehearse how they would ensure merchant and military shipping could aid a country in the event of a humanitarian disaster such as flooding, or even a conflict situation.

Held in Devonport, Auckland, the home of the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN), there were 6 attendees from the UK – 5 members of the Royal Naval Reserve and a member of the Fleet AWNIS (Allied Worldwide Navigation Information System) Unit.

The attendees were welcomed to the base with a traditional Maori ceremony at the marae (meeting house). This involved the visitors greeting everyone, from the Maritime Component Commander, Commodore John Martin RNZN, to the naval rates, with the traditional touching of nose and forehead, the hongi.

Lieutenant Commander Sue Roll from HMS Flying Fox, based in Bristol, a teacher in civilian life, said:

This was the first time I’ve undertaken this type of exercise, which demonstrated broader scope for the Naval Co-operation and Guidance for Shipping (NCAGS).

I’ve really enjoyed working in a multinational headquarters, and we got real value from seeing how each other nation conducted its business.

Lieutenant Commander Alan Eastham practises the hongi
Lieutenant Commander Alan Eastham of the Royal Naval Reserve practises the traditional Maori greeting, the hongi [Picture: Chris Weissenborn, New Zealand Defence Force, Crown copyright]

Maritime Trade Operations (MTO) is a system whereby authorities can ensure trade vessels can safely transit in particular areas – they act as the primary point of contact for merchant vessels and liaise with local military forces.

The UKMTO is manned by reservists and is based in Dubai. They track vessels and the positional information is passed to Combined Maritime Forces, the NATO Shipping Centre and the EU’s Maritime Security Centre - Horn of Africa. Emerging and relevant information affecting commercial traffic can then be passed directly to ships rather than by company offices, improving responsiveness to any incident and saving time.

For the New Zealand-based exercise, which was held in the Pacific Rim, the teams practised MTO and how they would operate if called to support a country in need of humanitarian aid or disaster relief.

For the exercise the naval participants worked for a fictitious organisation called the Regional Assistance Mission Nivaki Islands – the Nivaki Islands also made up part of the training.

The UK participants practised 2 disciplines within MTOAWNIS and NCAGS.

Lieutenant Commander Michael White, Fleet AWNIS Unit (UK Hydrographic Office), said:

We’ve been talking to other navies outside NATO for a while about what AWNIS can do, but this exercise marks a shift in the understanding of other navies as to what it can do to aid deconfliction and quickly get maritime safety information out to those at sea.

Lieutenant Commander Sue Roll with Chief Petty Officer Nigel McFadyen
Lieutenant Commander Sue Roll of the Royal Naval Reserve (left) with Chief Petty Officer Nigel McFadyen of the Royal New Zealand Navy [Picture: Chris Weissenborn, New Zealand Defence Force, Crown copyright]

Exercise Bell Buoy also saw a new AWNIS capability being practised, with rapid port assessment (RPA) demonstrated to officers from New Zealand, Australia, Chile and the United States.

Lieutenant Richard Burdett, who runs a homeless charity in civilian life, guided officers through RPA and practised it in 6 ports on the north island of New Zealand, from Auckland to Whangarei:

This wasn’t just a wonderful opportunity to visit New Zealand, but was a great chance to work with staff from other navies,” he said.

We’ve found fertile ground for what AWNIS can do and the teams on RPA have proved able and enthusiastic to explore this capability.

The RPA teams started with basic techniques, fixing buoys with relative positions recorded and taking bearings with a magnetic compass. This enabled them to solve the problem of an exercise chart that differed considerably from reality, and they went on to use GPS and laser range-finders where they were the best option.

The training value provided by our Royal Navy counterparts was invaluable and helped us to understand how best to approach this particular task,” said Lieutenant Commander Jeremy Packham of the Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserve.

The UK Armed Forces are changing, with greater emphasis being put on the Reserve Forces. The aim is that, by 2020, reservists will be a fully integrated component of the ‘Whole Force’ and will routinely deploy as part of all military operations.