Idle ships: Staff shortages, low salaries hit New Zealand Navy

Wellington: Three of New Zealand’s nine naval vessels are idle in port as higher civilian salaries lure personnel out of the army, the country’s defense force said, even as tensions rise in the Pacific between China and the US and its allies.

The HMNZS Wellington, an offshore patrol vessel, returned home early after a three-month deployment in the Pacific and was decommissioned in November due to shortages, the force said.

Crew of the HMNZS Wellington return to shore on a search for survivors of the 2019 Whakatane volcanic eruption. The ship is currently idle due to lack of personnel.Credit:Getty Images

The Wellington is the third ship to be placed in “care and custody”. Two other vessels – another offshore patrol vessel and a smaller patrol vessel to operate close to shore – were taken off the line last year and their crews transferred. The ships have a crew of 24 to 42.

The number of people leaving the Defense Force is at its highest level in decades, as personnel have stopped for private sector jobs, where salaries have risen due to a tight labor market. Navy turnover in the year to November was about 16.5 percent.

NZDF is also dealing with outdated equipment and a large number of staff being assigned to quarantine facilities at the border.


The bottom line is that “manpower issues affect the availability of ships to deliver naval output,” according to an August note from Defense Chief Air Marshal Kevin Short to the Secretary of Defense. “Risks to naval output delivery remain if churn and voids cannot be addressed in a timely manner.”

NZDF has just over 15,000 personnel, including civilian personnel, and about 2,800 in the Navy. The Defense Force said in May it would spend NZ$90 million ($85 million) over four years to raise the salaries of its lowest paid workers. Officials hope that staff numbers will improve significantly by 2026-2027.

With so few ships available, it is more difficult for the navy to tackle multiple challenges at once, a spokesman said.

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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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