Manawanui Dive Ship Legacy Continues in Ecological Role

As the Royal New Zealand Navy’s (RNZN) dive tender, HMNZS Manawanui was instrumental in clearing the southern Pacific waters of unexploded ordnance left over from the Second World War.

Now the decommissioned vessel will carry on a similar environmental mission, with ships sunk in battles during that war.

On Monday, 2 July, at Devonport, former HMNZS Manawanui passed into the hands of Paul Adams, of Australia’s Major Projects Foundation. He will use the ship, renamed MV Recovery, to carry out research into the extent of fuel leakage and corrosion from wartime shipwrecks, mainly in Melanesia.

Adams, the new ship’s master Bill Fenelon and a 15-strong volunteer Australian crew presented themselves for the handover beside MV Recovery at Devonport Naval Base.

In a short ceremony, New Zealand Defence Force Program Director Fleet Disposals Chris Calvert passed Adams the ownership papers and bill of sale, while her last RNZN Commanding Officer Commander Muzz Kennett and new master Fenelon exchanged a Manawanui cap and Major Projects T-shirt.

“I could not have picked a better outcome for her,” said Commander Kennett, who spent much of the handover in a captain-to-captain chat about the ship’s capabilities and features with Fenelon.

“I think it’s a fantastic outcome, in a sense carrying on the work we have been doing,” Commander Kennett said. “There was talk of Manawanui becoming a dive attraction, but this is better – she will continue to do a highly valued role on the sea, as opposed to being a permanent feature under it.”

Manawanui was decommissioned from the Royal New Zealand Navy on 23 February, following a farewell tour along the east coast of the North Island and a week in Whitianga, her home port.

A former North Sea oil tender built in 1979, the ship was purchased for the RNZN in 1988.
At time of writing, Recovery was scheduled to sail to Australia on 10 July, following sea trials. She will then be refitted and will spend several months on shakedown research missions off Australia’s east coast, before heading into the Pacific.

“I’ll follow your progress with interest,” Commander Kennett said. “I’m a keen diver. I might even come holidaying with you.”

He speculated the ship, as MV Recovery, could last another 20 years for the work the foundation planned.

“She’s a great little ship, very versatile. She’s got a four-point anchor system, a dive bell, decompression on board, two 20-foot containers and a five-tonne crane. She’s really set up to support diving.”

Commander Kennett, who has had two postings on HMNZS Manawanui, as Executive Officer and Commanding Officer, offered Major Projects Foundation his knowledge during the week of familiarization leading up to her departure, along with the expertise of the RNZN’s Keep Alive Team of former engineers and crew.

Members of the RNZN’s Maritime Operational Evaluation Team provided training on the ship before its voyage.

Fenelon, who has experience in ocean oil recovery, said it looked like an excellent ship. “It’s a very capable boat for this kind of work.”

Adams said they had been looking for such a ship for four years, and were excited to finally get her.

“We are just so delighted to have purchased this vessel from the Royal New Zealand Navy. There’s even three liters of fresh milk in the fridge this morning. And it feels like the Navy have fallen in love with what we want to do.”

As well as extracting oil and fuel from sunken ships, Major Projects Limited could employ “cathodic protection”, involving the placement of batteries on the hull to put a current through the steel, preventing further deterioration, he said.

“In essence, we can keep the fuel inside. But for anything that’s too far gone, we can research a method to extract the oil. This vessel is perfect for the work. It’s got the right-sized crane, the right-sized deck space.”

Commander Kennett said he was likely to watch the ship depart Auckland on 10 July, but when it came to an emotional bond it was more about the people he had worked with on Manawanui.

“The ship is a steel hull – it enables you to go and do missions for the Government. It’s the people who operate ship, the ship’s company, who are the key. At the end of the day the ship goes to where we want it to go.”

He said two things stood out for him.

“The first was Operation Render Safe in 2016 in the Solomon Islands, recovering Second World War ordnance.”

The other was the association of Manawanui with Whitianga, her home port.

“Every time we went there, people would turn out and welcome us. For our farewell, we spent a week there, and when we sailed 400 people came to wave us goodbye.”