Author: George Block

The New Zealand debut of the Navy's brand new, purpose-built ship has been delayed by coronavirus.

HMNZS Aotearoa was originally set to be delivered in January 2020 when it was named three years ago before construction started in South Korea.

But coronavirus threw a spanner in the works of commissioning and delivery plans for the tanker, the largest ship ever to be operated by the Royal New Zealand Navy.

As Covid-19 cases spiked in South Korea in February, the NZ Defence Force (NZDF) decided to fly home some members of the Maritime Sustainment Capability project team.

They and their families had been based in the Korean port city of Ulsan, in the south-east of the country, where the ship was built.

Ulsan is just 70km from Daegu, at the time the centre of the South Korean coronavirus outbreak.

An NZDF spokeswoman said several suppliers had been unable to travel to Ulsan to complete system commissioning and testing, due to international travel restrictions, and the project team were working on options for completing the work.

The supply chain for the ship's builder Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) was also affected by a reduced manufacturing and transportation capacity, the spokeswoman said.

In addition, the pandemic affected training courses for New Zealand based crew of Aotearoa.

As of Friday, the ship was in dry-dock in Ulsan, having just had a final coat of anti-fouling paint.

Meanwhile, HHI is in the final stages of sorting out “minor issues” identified during inspections, the spokeswoman said.

Since December, Aotearoa underwent a range sea trials off the coast of Ulsan.

They included tests of the ship's seaworthiness along with its engines and automated systems.

Hyundai Heavy Industries, the shipyard that built HMNZS Aotearoa, captured this image off the coast of Ulsan, South Korea during the new tanker's sea trials.

Further trials are set for May.

The spokeswoman said reports from those who had been to sea on board the ship during the trials were positive.

“Navy personnel who were involved have reported they were pleased with the way the ship performed, and they also noted that for a ship of this size, it is manoeuvrable, functional and will be a step up in capability when compared to our previous tanker.”

The sea trials turned up no major problems.

But it appears there have been some teething problems getting to grips with the high level of automation aboard the ship.

“Aotearoa is a modern naval ship and so there is a high level of automation and system control, which will take time to learn and understand better.

“The design also requires a high level of system integration which inevitably results in challenges that need to be overcome in the construction and commissioning stage.

“These are the expected challenges of a new and complex modern ship.''

The NZDF is working with HHI, suppliers and other government agencies on a plan to deliver Aotearoa, but a date was yet to be confirmed, the spokeswoman said.


The ship was purpose-built to support the Navy's combat and humanitarian relief functions, along with operational and training support.

She is able to support operations through resupplying land, air and sea units with ship and aviation fuel, food, water, spare parts and ammunition.

At 173m it is longer than the 169m HMNZS Achilles light cruiser which served with the Royal New Zealand Navy during World War 2, or the 118m HMNZS Te Kaha frigate currently in service.

An earlier fleet replenishment tanker, the HMNZS Endeavour, was decomissioned in Auckland in 2017 after three decades of service.

The spokeswoman said the Aotearoa offered significant extra capabilities, including a large flight deck and hangar facility to operate and maintain NZDF helicopters — the Endeavour could not land any of the current NZDF aircraft on board.

It can also carry 22 shipping containers compared to the Endeavour's four.

The Aotearoa is ice-strengthened for Southern Ocean monitoring and Antarctic operations resupplying McMurdo Station and Scott Base.


• Class: Auxiliary Oiler Replenishment (AOR)

• Shipbuilder: Hyundai Heavy Industries, Ulsan, South Korea

• Propulsion System: Combined Diesel Electric and Diesel (CODLAD) provided by 2 x Bergen B33:45L9P diesels supplemented by 2 x electric power take in motors. 2 x flap rudders and 2 x controllable pitch propellers

• Power generation 4 x 2.6MW MTU 20V4000M53B, 1 x 410kw STX KTA19DMGE emergency generator

• Length: 173.2 metres

• Beam: 24.5 metres

• Draught: 8.4 metres

• Displacement: (full) 26000 tonnes

• Range: 6750 nautical miles

• Design speed: 16 knots

• Total liquid cargo capacity: 9500 tonnes

• Dry goods cargo capacity 22 x twenty foot equivalent units

• Core Crew: 64

• Bunks: 100 (including 2 in the sick bay and a VIP cabin)

• Future home port: New Plymouth 

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