The journey to find our new Dive and Hydrographic vessel

In August this year the Minister of Defence announced the purchase of the Norwegian survey vessel Edda Fonn to close the capability gap created with the decommissioning of the survey ship HMNZS Resolution and the dive tender HMNZS Manawanui. This announcement came after eight busy months for the Diving and Hydrographic Vessel (DHV) project team of business case writing and undertaking a robust but rapid selection process that would enable the purchase of a vessel to meet the NZDF requirements within the set budget.

The Diving and Hydrographic Vessel (DHV) project was previously known as the Littoral Operations Support Capability (LOSC) project, which aimed to procure a vessel for advanced force operations in the littoral environment. At the end of 2017 $148 Million was reprioritised from the project within the defence capability portfolio, thereby reducing the available budget for the project. As a consequence of the reprioritisation of funds, the project was re-scoped and the LOSC project deferred. In order to fill the capability gap from the decommissioning of HMNZS RESOLUTION and Manawanui $103 Million was allocated to the project to purchase a diving and hydrographic vessel. This essentially meant putting on hold the advanced forces role associated with the LOSC and instead focusing solely on diving, hydrography, search and recovery, maritime presence and naval training outputs.

Recent years have seen a downturn in the oil and gas industry and a subsequent surplus of survey and offshore support vessels due to falling demand for that particular type of vessel. This presented an opportunity for the project to acquire a good quality second-hand vessel at a competitive price. It also presented the challenge of selecting and purchasing a suitable vessel in a relatively short period of time in anticipation of a rebound within the oil and gas industry.

The project engaged with a world leading shipbroker to narrow down potential options. This resulted in a shortlist of 25 options from an initial list of 2500 ships. These 25 ships were then reduced down even further (based on the project requirements) to eight ships. In February this year the project visited six of the eight options (two were removed when it was confirmed they were no longer for sale). Out of these final six options, one particular vessel came out as a clear contender due to its configuration, capability, materiel state, size and likely cost. This vessel was the Edda Fonn.

The work did not stop there though. In order to ensure that we were getting a suitable ship in good condition further investigation was conducted. This involved ongoing meetings with the current owners to determine a suitable purchase and modification package as well as independent survey of the ship’s condition both internally, externally and underwater. While the vessel is 15 years old, it was pleasing to note that the surveyor made specific comment that the ship was in a condition expected of a vessel five years younger than what it actually was. This confirmed the project’s understanding that the Norwegians build good ships and they look after them really well. With all the due diligence done on the purchase of the vessel a contract was signed with the current owners in late August to purchase the vessel and for them to undertake the first stage of modifications to the Edda Fonn to make it mission capable for the RNZN.

The Edda Fonn will undergo the first stage of modifications in Europe in January 2019 which is expected to take up to two months. The first stage modifications involve the fitting of the hydrographic systems, the Surface Supply Breathing Apparatus (SSBA) system and wet bell, dive recompression chamber, underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), boats davits and a new engine as well as some minor superstructure work. On completion of these modifications the ship will sail to New Zealand under a commercial crew but with RNZN personnel embarked to gain experience operating the ship. On arrival in New Zealand, currently planned for May 2019, the ship will be formally handed over to the NZDF and commissioned as HMNZS Manawanui. The ship will then undergo a second stage of modifications to fit it out with Military specific equipment such as the armoury, magazines, communications, damage control equipment and any other equipment required for the ship to conduct military operations.

The stage 2 modifications will complete in October 2019, signalling the significant milestone of the ship being ready to proceed to sea under the NZ White Ensign and RNZN crew. The remainder of 2019 will be dedicated to acceptance trials and developing core mariner skills operating the new vessel. The rubber will really meet the road in 2020 when the Manawanui will start releasing capability in conjunction with HMNZS MATATAUA. The capability release programme will see the release of hydrographic operations, diving (SSBA and detached diving), Maritime Explosive Ordnance Disposal (MEOD), salvage operations and limited Mine Counter Measure (MCM) operations. The aim is to fully release Manawanui’s capability by the end of 2020.

While the new Manawanui has been purchased to fill the capability gap left by the decommissioning of the previous Manawanui and RESOLUTION, developments in technology mean that the new Manawanui will be a ‘step up’ in capability. A key feature is its Dynamic Positioning (DP) system. This means that the ship can “hover” over the sea bed and remain in position whilst the ship conducts operations such as SSBA diving or underwater ROV operations. This is a significant enhancement from the previous requirement to anchor the ship using a four point anchoring system. The SSBA diving will be conducted through a moon pool arrangement which is essentially access to the sea through a pool built through the hull. This provides protection from the elements for the divers whilst conducting SSBA operations. The hydrographic systems will also be modern and state of the art, able to cover large areas in a short period of time and will allow the RNZN to survey to greater depths with more accuracy than ever before. The ship also comes with a 100-tonne subsea crane, giving the Manawanui a significant ability to lift objects from the sea floor. To put this in perspective, the old Manawanui had a nine-tonne crane and the OPVs have a 15-tonne crane. CANTERBURY has a 50-tonne crane.

The next ship to bear the proud name Manawanui represents an exciting opportunity for the RNZN to revitalise the capabilities that were lost with the decommissioning of MANWANUI and RESOLUTION. Once Manawanui’s capabilities have been released it promises to be a very busy and versatile ship and a key asset for the Government of NZ.