Royal New Zealand Navy Commander Mike Oomen has been living in the parallel universe he has created for months as part of an international maritime trade exercise.
“They’re saying my middle name is Tolkien,” Commander Oomen says.
“It’s been a bit like writing a novel, we’ve gone into incredible detail because it has to be realistic.”
The fictional island nation of Nevaki, located half way between New Zealand and Fiji, is at the centre of the elaborate scenario involving role play, mock emergencies, fake maps and charts and even an imaginary language derived from Portuguese.
It is the first time New Zealand has hosted the annual Exercise Bell Buoy to test the military’s disaster relief, anti-piracy and government support methods.
“As it all gets fleshed out I’m actually starting to believe it. I’d quite like to go on holiday there one day,” Commander Oomen says.
Navy personnel from nine other nations have played the game, a mix of computer based and real-world activities, alongside commercial representatives from the shipping industry and other maritime organisations.
The navy commander has dedicated more than a year to create the scenario modelled on real events like the Rena disaster, the Christchurch earthquake, conflict in East Timor, Papua New Guinea and piracy threats around the Horn of Africa.
Teams have been working out of the Devonport naval base and the Port of Tauranga since May 13 to resolve fictional situations like corruption, drugs and weapons smuggling, human trafficking and piracy in Nevaki.
It is an opportunity to trial ways of protecting international shipping so nations like New Zealand, that rely on sea exports, can continue to trade at times of unrest.
Royal New Zealand Navy exercise director Captain Phil O’Connell says around 99 per cent of New Zealand trade is via shipping.
Co-operation between the navy and the shipping industry is crucial to protecting our economy, Captain O’Connell says.
“Freedom of navigation is a precursor to trade, prosperity and peace.”
Around 297 acts of piracy occur globally each year.
“Our navy is ready and prepared to deploy to hotspots around the world to support trade,” he says.
New Zealand Defence
Minister Jonathan Coleman says the scenario is not too far from the truth.
“In the real world we currently have a P-3 Orion conducting anti-piracy surveillance and the HMNZS Te Mana will be heading up to the Gulf Of Aden in November to combat piracy.”
Mr Coleman says the exercise is hoped to identify any gaps in existing maritime security.
“Exercises like this are important because we are a small trading nation.
“If suddenly our ships can’t go around the Horn of Africa or through the Malacca Strait then it’s going to have a huge negative impact on our economy.”
Exercise Bell Buoy has officially come to an end and participants are now rationalising results.