Construction of the Royal New Zealand Navy’s largest ever vessel, the HMNZS Aotearoa, officially started on January 31 with a steel cutting ceremony at Hyundai Heavy Industries’ Ulsan shipyard in South Korea.
The ice-going tanker will be launched in March next year, and enter service in 2020.
The tanker acquisition was approved by the New Zealand government in June 2014 allowing for a tender to be released in March 2015. The contract was awarded to Hyundai Heavy Industries in July that year for $493 million.
Aotearoa will be able to refuel two ships at the same time while underway, carry and refuel New Zealand Defence Force helicopters, produce and store water, and store and transport bulk goods.
HMNZS Aotearoa has twice the displacement of its decommissioned predecessor HMNZS Endeavour and will carry 30 per cent more fuel.
HMNZS Aotearoa will also be a world-first naval “Environship”, with Hyundai using the Rolls-Royce Environship concept design under licence. The design incorporates a new wave-piercing hull, which reduces resistance and lowers fuel use, while its combined diesel electric and diesel propulsion plant has lower fuel emissions than older vessels.
The design and capabilities of HMNZS Aotearoa were announced by the Ministry of Defence in 2016. The cost includes the tanker’s enhanced “winterisation” capabilities, such as ice-strengthening for operations in Antarctica, including resupplying McMurdo Station and Scott Base. HMNZS Endeavour was not Antarctic-capable.
The Defence White Paper 2016 identified Antarctica as a “focus on increasing international interest” while noting the New Zealand Defence Force’s “critical role” in supporting personnel in the Ross Dependency and monitoring activity in the Southern Ocean.