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NZ Navy Idles One-Third of its Fleet Due to Manning Shortage

HMNZS Wellington
HMNZS Wellington (NZ Defence Force)

Published Dec 9, 2022 3:54 PM by The Maritime Executive

New Zealand's small navy has had to sideline three of its ships to conserve staff as private-sector competition peels off an ever-growing number of its sailors. It is an extreme version of the staffing challenge facing other navies in an unusually strong jobs market. 

Wage growth has soared in New Zealand in the post-pandemic era. Median wages rose by a record-setting rate of nine percent in June, reaching annualized pay of US$40,000 (and a bit higher for those with technical skills). By contrast, the annual salary for an enlisted sailor in the Royal New Zealand Navy is about US$33,000-38,000.

During the pandemic, navy personnel were also pulled off regular duty to staff New Zealand's COVID-19 quarantine centers, reducing the number of available sailors to keep up the fleet. The quarantine operation ended in May 2022, but it reportedly had a lasting effect on morale.

These factors are adding up to a substantial staff shortage. The Navy's attrition rate for the year through November was nearly 17 percent, officials told local media, and those who remain have an increased workload to keep up with the service's aging fleet. 

Short-handed operation forced the patrol vessel HMNZS Wellington to head back to her home port early from a recent fishery patrol, according to ABC. She has now entered long-term layup, or "care and custody" storage status, which will make it easier to maintain the 2010-built ship with fewer personnel. 

Wellington joins two other laid-up ships, the offshore patrol vessel HMNZS Otago and the inshore patrol vessel HMNZS Hawea. Together, they make up a third of the service's small nine-ship fleet and nearly half of its armed combatants.