A New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) P-3K2 Orion surveillance aircraft returned home on the evening of 9 December from a 16-month operation in the Middle East, where it worked as part of an international partnership against piracy and the trafficking of drugs.
The Orion and a supporting detachment comprised of 53 personnel were deployed as part of Operation TAKAPU, which is one of the longest missions undertaken by the NZDF in the Middle East region.
“Operation TAKAPU helped protect a vital route for global commerce and represented New Zealand’s contribution to enhance maritime security in the Middle East,” said Major General Tim Gall, the Commander Joint Forces New Zealand. He added, “It also affirmed New Zealand’s ongoing international commitment to global security.”
The TAKAPU detachment conducted a total of 174 maritime surveillance flights, involving around 1400 flying hours, in support of the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF). The 30-nation naval partnership promotes maritime security and seeks to defeat terrorism and prevent piracy and the illegal trafficking of people and drugs.
“Our work has helped the CMF locate and intercept vessels involved in illegal activities including piracy and drug smuggling,” said Wing Commander Brian Ruiterman, the mission’s Senior National Officer. He added, “Based upon feedback from the CMF, we set the benchmark for performance. We successfully operated a long way from home for a long period of time and at a high operational tempo.”
In October 2014, a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) Orion guided the Australian frigate HMAS Toowoomba to a ship off the coast of Somalia that was smuggling almost 6,000 kilograms of hashish with an estimated street value of NZ$360 million (approximately US$240 million). The Orion and HMAS Toowoomba had trailed the dhow from the Arabian Sea to the Horn of Africa.
In June 2015, surveillance work conducted by the TAKAPU detachment helped the Royal New Zealand Navy frigate, Her Majesty’s New Zealand Ship (HMNZS) Te Kaha to seize 118 kilograms of heroin worth an estimated NZ$108 million (approximately US$72 million) in the West Indian Ocean.
Chief of Air Force Air Vice-Marshal Mike Yardley said: “The RNZAF Orion has made a difference and their contribution is appreciated by our CMF partners. This contribution from New Zealand has helped keep the seas safe in the Middle East.”
In a letter to Major General Gall, Commander Joint Forces New Zealand, Vice Admiral Donegan, Commander CMF, said: “The extraordinary skill and dedication displayed by your P-3K2 aircrews and Mission Support Element were essential to maritime security throughout the region over the past 16 months.” He added: “As the personnel supporting Operation TAKAPU return to New Zealand and reunite with their families, they should feel a great sense of pride in their accomplishments and service to their country.”