Seven Northlanders are on a mission to Antarctica checking that fishing boats are abiding by international laws as they target the much sought-after Antarctic toothfish.

The sailors are on board the HMNZS Wellington which has been in Northland waters this week on a training scenario preparing the crew for the Southern Ocean deployment.

Yesterday the Wellington, an Offshore Patrol Vessel designed for maritime surveillance, supply and support and patrol missions around New Zealand, the southern ocean and into the Pacific, docked in Whangārei at Port Nikau.

Antarctic toothfish is prized by top-end restaurants. They can grow up to 40kg and fetch around US$50 ($64) a kilo and the flesh is sometimes referred to as "white gold".

Advertisement

The remote seas are regulated by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources and the New Zealand Navy are frequent visitors to the chilly climate to check boats are keeping to the rules.

Northlanders Jo Leef from Panguru, Nirah Nathan from Kaitaia, Jansen Morunga of Waipu, Zion Hoani from Ōtangarei, Liam Whata of Whangārei, Stephen Lofthouse of Kamo, and Damian Gibbs of Whangārei.
Northlanders Jo Leef from Panguru, Nirah Nathan from Kaitaia, Jansen Morunga of Waipu, Zion Hoani from Ōtangarei, Liam Whata of Whangārei, Stephen Lofthouse of Kamo, and Damian Gibbs of Whangārei.

Heading the crew on this occasion is Northlander, Lieutenant Commodore Damian Gibbs.

Gibbs, a former student at Ngunguru Primary School and Tauraroa Area School, said the crew head to Antarctica at the end of the month to coincide with the opening of the toothfish season on December 1.

It will take up to five days to steam south from Dunedin where they will patrol for about 11 days before making the return.

The HMNZS Wellington is designed to undertake patrols in the southern ocean where ice may be encountered.

The crew on the naval ship Wellington steam up the Whangārei Harbour as part of a training exercise preparing for the Southern Ocean. Photo/ Michael Cunningham
The crew on the naval ship Wellington steam up the Whangārei Harbour as part of a training exercise preparing for the Southern Ocean. Photo/ Michael Cunningham

However the ship is not designed as an icebreaker or to enter Antarctic ice packs but has a strengthened hull that enables her to enter southern waters where ice may be encountered.

"Sixteen per cent of the crew have been to Antarctica before so these trips are about patrolling the area and building the ice experience for the navy," Gibbs said.

"Some of the icebergs can be 3km across. It's an unforgiving and isolated environment to be treated with respect."

Ōtangarei's Zion Hoani said it was the first time he had ventured to Antarctica and he was looking forward to sailing some of the roughest seas on the planet.

Jo Leef, of Panguru, was also excited about heading south and being able to tick something off her bucket list.

As a watchkeeper Liam Whata was involved in navigating the ship which meant avoiding icebergs.

He said he had spent a couple of months using a simulator in preparation for the trip.

"Some of the glacial icebergs are thousands of years old and are so dense it would be just like hitting a rock, which we definitely don't want."