Tuesday, 26 May 2020


Series of Navy training exercises in Whitianga

During the past few weeks, a team of Royal New Zealand Navy hydrographers from HMNZS Matataua, the Navy’s littoral warfare unit, were in Whitianga to undergo a series of training exercises.

Hydrographers survey and chart the ocean floor, coastal areas, lakes and rivers. The work they do ensures safe navigation for vessels and gauges suitability for beach landings.

Matataua means “Eyes of the Warrior,” a fitting name for those who identify and contain any dangers that lie within the ocean.

HMNZS Matataua includes the hydrographic and dive specialists of the Navy. While the team who were in Whitianga focuses on surveying to enable the seabed to be charted, the unit also covers other disciplines, including rapid environmental assessment where humanitarian aid is needed, disaster relief, the deployment of autonomous underwater vehicles commonly used for body and wreck recovery and the detection and the destruction of old bombs and other explosive devices in the ocean or washed up on shore.

Lieutenant Stuart Lee, the officer in charge of the HMNZS Matataua team who were in Whitianga, says that Whitianga is the ideal location for conducting exercises. “Whitianga is suitable for a concentrated period of training,” he says. “It has good environmental conditions, including different beaches in the area and different seabed types. We’ve also undergone night training sessions so our team could get used to working in dark conditions.”

A new boat named Path Finder was taken out into Mercury Bay to enable the team to operate an autonomous underwater vehicle, Remus 100. The vehicle is used to detect any unusual objects in the water. As well as missing persons and sunken vessels, mines and other underwater explosive devices can also be detected.

A long, cylindrical shape like a small submarine, Remus has two side scanning sonars on either side. It moves through the water 3m above the seabed and fires out sound that hits an object and is reflected back. A highly sensitive microphone picks up on this noise, which is then transmitted back to the team operating the vehicle.

Remus was not long ago used to find the wreckage of a helicopter that crashed into a lake in the South Island and also discovered some abandoned gold mines in the Zealandia ecosanctuary lake in Wellington after HMNZS Matataua was asked to map the underwater terrain.

Last year, a team from HMNZS Matataua came to Whitianga and used Remus in an attempt to locate parts of HMS Buffalo off Buffalo Beach.

After the Christchurch earthquake in February 2011, HMNZS Matataua was responsible for mapping the nearby seabed to chart the substantial shifts that occurred in the terrain.

The unit also participates in international exercises. Last year, a team from HMNZS Matataua went to Hawaii to lead a mine-countermeasures exercise. A drone team and divers who conducted beach surveys have also travelled to Vanuatu last year. Later this year, a team will be heading to Australia for a series of exercises.

Each international trip consists of a team made up of an officer and three or four crew members.

The team who were in Whitianga headed back to their Devonport base in Auckland on Friday last week. The team members have thoroughly enjoyed their stay in Whitianga. “Whitianga is a beautiful town,” says Lieutenant Lee. “The weather has been on our side during our visit and the locals have been so friendly and welcoming.”

Pictured: A team from HMNZS Matataua, the Royal New Zealand Navy’s littoral warfare unit, were in Whitianga the past few weeks to conduct a series of training exercises.


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