The crew of HMNZS Te Kaha was this afternoon given contrasting messages. The frigate docked at Auckland’s Devonport Naval Base at around 3pm and was given a warm ministerial welcome by Defence Minister Mark Burton followed by family cheers, flag waving and a military fly-over.
But as Te Kaha passed between the Devonport ferry terminal and the Naval dock, its crew were presented with a clear message from New Zealand’s anti-war movement: that the Navy's role in escorting US ships through the Strait of Hormuz is unacceptable.
Te Kaha has been replaced by HMNZS Te Mana, currently patrolling with the Canadian-led Coalition Task Group in the Arabian sea and the Gulf of Oman.
Officially the New Zealand Navy’s role has been part of a hunt for terrorists.
But recently, a publication with a photo of Te Kaha escorting the US munitions supply vessel the Watkins through the Straits of Hormuz, brought outrage. That its role has been much more, and that the chain of command for the New Zealand frigates in the Gulf ultimately has gone to the US aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln which is waging daily bombing raids on Iraq.
Anti-war group Global Peace and Justice Auckland [GPJA] said today the munitions escorted by Te Kaha are now raining down on the people of Iraq. Our government has blood on its hands just as surely as if we had fired these missiles ourselves.
“There was a time when New Zealand was prepared to stand up to America for what we believed in as with the rejection of nuclear powered and armed vessels entering our ports in the 1980's. However in 2003 we have become morally neutered in our "behind the scenes" support for their war effort, the GPJA statement said.
Mark Burton stressed the importance of Te Kaha’s work in MIO: “Terrorism is still a very real threat to international security. Now, more than ever, New Zealand must continue to work closely with others globally to counter that threat.
“Te Mana is continuing that work as part of the Canadian lead task group involved in intercepting and boarding ships, escorting coalition vessels, gathering information and intelligence and, if necessary, identifying and detaining Al Quada and Taliban personnel. We stand alongside other nations who oppose those who would use cowardly acts of terror to further their own aims,” Mark Burton said.
But GPJA said: “The government disingenuously says it is not possible to differentiate between vessels when on escort duty. This is pathetic, spineless rubbish.”