Four years ago Pauline Theron, who was in her third year as an engineering student at Massey University at Palmerston North, had to decide what career to pursue.
“Joining the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) seemed a great way to combine my interest in engineering and my love for the sea,” she said.
Two years ago she was the top graduating officer from her course at Devonport Navy Base, and now she is posted until November as Assistant Marine Engineering Officer on HMS Albion, one of the Royal Navy’s two amphibious assault ships.
In this role Sub-Lieutenant Theron is gaining hands-on experience operating the ship’s marine engineering machinery. She is also learning how the ship’s 70-strong marine engineering department is run.
“The Royal Navy personnel have been very accommodating and welcoming. The camaraderie is good and the ship’s company have become like a second family,” she said.
The 23,000-tonne HMS Albion, which has 550 crew members, is currently deployed in the Asia-Pacific to strengthen the United Kingdom’s partnerships in a part of the world that is growing in strategic importance.
The ship has visited Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei and South Korea so far and exercised with a French task group in the Java Sea. It is presently in Japan to work alongside the United Kingdom’s allies and partners to support maritime security in the region’s busy shipping lanes.
“Being away from home can be challenging, so it’s great that we have email and occasional phone calls,” Sub-Lieutenant Theron said.
“It’s quite amusing seeing a stream of crew members heading to the nearest Wi-Fi zone every time the ship comes alongside in a foreign port.”
Born in South Africa, Sub-Lieutenant Theron migrated to New Zealand with her family when she was 14. They settled on the Kapiti Coast and later in Palmerston North.
With a bursary from the RNZN, she completed her engineering degree in December 2015 and joined the Regular Force the following month. She deployed to the Southern Ocean in 2016 as the Assistant Engineering Officer of offshore patrol vessel HMNZS Wellington.
“As an engineer, to be involved in docking and undocking a ship and in the meticulous planning that is required is an enriching experience,” she said.
“Walking underneath a large ship, such as when it enters a dry dock for repairs to the underwater portion of the hull, is a surreal experience.”