Kiama man at helm of the Ocean Shield

Jason Britton is proud to captain the Ocean Shield, a $130million purchase by Australia for humanitarian work. Picture: DYLAN ROBINSONKiama man Jason Britton is a very proud captain.
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Why wouldn’t you be when you are in charge one of the most technologically advanced merchant vessels Australia has seen?

The $130 million Ocean Shield was bought by the Australian government for humanitarian and disaster relief purposes.

Although purchased as a Royal Australian Navy asset – and with defence funds – the Ocean Shield will be operated by a civilian crew provided by Teekay Shipping.

“It is the most technologically advanced ship I have ever laid my eyes on, that’s for sure,” Captain Britton said.

“There are ships with dynamic positioning, and ships with the crane technology, but none in a package like this.’’

Dynamic positioning is a computer controlled system, using satellites to automatically maintain a vessel’s position.

The Ocean Shield will play a key role in disaster relief between now and the expected arrival of two helicopter landing dock ships in four to five years.

The ship can be used for relief purposes such as transporting equipment, personnel and supplies, as well as being suitable as a base for operations.

This week the Ocean Shield officially comes under the navy’s control, although Captain Britton and Teekay were contracted to deliver the ship to Australia from Norway.

The 110-metre-long ship has room for 100 people, which includes a crew of about 20.

“Why Teekay, I’m not sure. But we are very proud to be asked to do it, it is very proud to know you are captain of a ship involved in humanitarian relief,” he said.

Many of the crew have connections to the Illawarra and South Coast. Some of them were previously with the Iron Monarch, which was also operated by Teekay.

The Iron Monarch plied the waters between Port Kembla and Western Port in Victoria for almost 40 years, carrying steel slabs for owner BlueScope Steel until it was sold this year.

‘‘It was fortunate for the company that as the Iron Monarch sailed over the horizon an opportunity arose to redeploy some of the crew to the Ocean Shield.’’

Captain Britton is one of two masters, as the ship operates under a two-crew system.

Kiama residents were given a sneak peek a few weeks ago when Captain Britton parked the Ocean Shield off the Kiama Blowhole and undertook some exercises.

‘‘I didn’t appreciate how many people would come and have a look. I was told we had people turning up thinking we had crashed or [were] even looking for coal seam gas.’’

Captain Britton, 42, who grew up in Mount Warrigal, said the appointment was the highlight of his career.

‘‘To be chosen to pick up the ship was a moment I am very proud of,’’ he said. ‘‘I know the ship will do something extraordinary one day.’’

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