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Southern Ocean Patrol Vessel

The project was set up to deliver an ice-strengthened patrol vessel for the Royal New Zealand Navy to undertake activities in the environmentally demanding conditions of the Southern Ocean and Ross Sea. 

Current Status

The Southern Ocean Patrol Vessel project was initiated to examine and assess the value of an ice-capable vessel that would provide dedicated patrol and support capabilities in Aotearoa New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone, the Southern Ocean, and the Ross Sea. 

In August 2020 Cabinet approved an indicative business case and the Ministry of Defence began to compile a detailed business case (DBC), which included the release to industry of a formal Request for Information in 2021. 

The development of the DBC has been deferred due to the impact of COVID-19 and personnel pressures from other projects. The Southern Ocean Patrol Vessel project will continue to be considered in coming months. 


Contact: Jon Finderup, Maritime Domain Director




The Royal New Zealand Navy operates two Protector-class offshore patrol vessels (OPV) – HMNZS Wellington(external link) and Otago(external link). They are designed for maritime surveillance, supply and support, and patrol missions around New Zealand’s 15,000-kilometre coast, the Southern Ocean and into the Pacific. Their hulls are strengthened, which enables them to enter southern waters where ice may be encountered.

The project was set up to explore options for an ice-strengthened ship designed to operate in one of the harshest environments on the planet, and capable of supporting efforts to monitor and respond to activity in the Southern Ocean and Ross Sea.

Experience suggests that any vessel will need distinctly different characteristics to the Protector-class OPVs. It would be traversing one of the roughest seas in the world, and must be able to operate safely in Ross Sea ice conditions, and be compliant with the Polar Code, which came into effect in 2017. The Polar Code covers the full range of design, construction, equipment, operational, training, search and rescue and environmental protection matters relevant to ships operating in polar waters. This includes mandatory measures and provisions to cover safety and pollution prevention.


Updated: April 2022