Navy personnel in firing line for bad behaviour

SHANE COWLISHAW
Last updated 05:00 11/02/2013

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More than 100 Defence Force personnel serving overseas have been disciplined in the past three years for behaviour ranging from drunkenness to assault.

Figures provided by the Defence Force reveal 104 instances of disciplinary proceedings taken against staff overseas. The overwhelming majority, 74, occurred in the navy. There were 29 in the army and one in the air force.

Many of the offences by navy personnel occurred while at sea, while others happened while vessels were stopped at places including Hong Kong, Vancouver and Hawaii.

Misbehaviour in the army was spread across deployment locations including Afghanistan, Timor Leste and the Solomon Islands.

Only one disciplinary proceeding involving air force personnel occurred during the period, with one member fined after disappearing without leave and getting drunk in Egypt.

A large portion of the offences involve alcohol, particularly in the navy.

Other offences include disobeying orders, avoidance of duty, cruel or disgraceful conduct and loss of property.

One junior personnel member was held in detention for 10 days for using violence while the frigate Te Kaha was visiting Hobart in April, while another spent 17 days confined to the ship after an assault while in Sembawang, Singapore.

In 2010 a junior member of Te Kaha's personnel was locked up for two weeks for obstruction while in Hawaii.

Maritime Component Commander Commodore John Martin described the figures as "unhappy", especially regarding the navy.

The Defence Force was a highly disciplined organisation and had a very low tolerance for misbehaviour.

Navy figures were high because of the large amount of personnel overseas, many of whom were young new recruits.

"In many cases, particularly when it comes to the frigates, we're taking young and inexperienced people away when they're in the early parts of their career.

"Some people might think of the Defence Force as a little bit of adventure tourism; that's not the case when it comes to discipline."

While any disciplinary action was unfortunate, there would always be some personnel who got into trouble, he said.

"We take people we want to be risk-takers into the service; we take people who have a lot of confidence, so they're always going to butt up against the norms."

The Defence Force has refused to provide details about how many personnel have appeared before the courts on criminal charges during the period, both in New Zealand and overseas. The Dominion Post has appealed the decision to the ombudsman to obtain the information under the Official Information Act.

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- The Dominion Post

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