Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) has begun the construction of the Royal New Zealand Navy’s (RNZN) future fleet replenishment tanker, HMNZS Aotearoa (A12).

The start of construction was marked by a keel-laying ceremony, which was held at HHI’s shipyard in Ulsan, South Korea.

The event involved the laying of more than 500t of keel blocks in the dry dock for the multi-purpose vessel.

"This is an exciting time for our Navy. It is filled with challenges and opportunities as we ready ourselves for Aotearoa, as well as our modernised frigates."

HMNZS Aotearoa is set to be launched early next year and will be deployed from Antarctica to the Arabian Gulf in order to provide logistical support to both New Zealand and coalition maritime, land and air units.

The vessel will provide refuelling services, freshwater generation and cargo-carrying capabilities, in addition to conducting air patrols using an embarked Seasprite or NH90 helicopter.

New Zealand Navy Chief rear admiral John Martin said: “This is an exciting time for our Navy.

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“It is filled with challenges and opportunities as we ready ourselves for Aotearoa, as well as our modernised frigates.

“It is these three ships on which our combat capability will be based.”

HMNZS Aotearoa is intended to replace the RNZN’s ageing HMNZS Endeavour vessel, which is scheduled for decommissioning in the near future.

The 173.2m-long vessel is slated to have a displacement capacity of 26,000t and a range of 6,750 nautical miles (nm), while accommodating a core crew of 64 personnel.

Aotearoa will feature a new wave-piercing hull and has been based on Rolls-Royce’s Environship concept.

It will also be fitted with a combined diesel-electric and diesel propulsion plant.

The ship’s company will be assembled, trained and prepared to operate the vessel over the coming year in time for its scheduled delivery to the navy in January 2020.

FarSounder’s long-range sonar was selected for installation on-board the vessel in April in order to provide real-time 3D data.