Skip to main content

HMNZS Aotearoa’s new Commanding Officer

Enter the bridge of HMNZS Aotearoa first thing in the morning and you’ll likely find Commander Rob Welford drinking his coffee with a big smile on his face.

20 November, 2023

CDR Welford is the newest Commanding Officer of Aotearoa and has served in two navies for thirty-seven years.

“Quite simply, I can’t think of anything else I would rather be doing.”

CDR Welford took command of Aotearoa on 24 October from Commander Dave Barr while the ship was alongside in Singapore, having concluded Exercise Bersama Lima 23 (Navy Today November 2023). He sailed into the South China Sea that very day.

He joined the Royal New Zealand Navy in August 2014 after nearly 28 years in the Royal Navy, where he saw operational service in the Adriatic, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Bosnia. He has served as Executive Officer in HM Ships Arun and Campbeltown.

“I come from a small village just outside Oxford, but moved to Ilfracombe in North Devon before I was 10. It’s a seaside resort and fishing town so I grew up by the sea, worked on fishing boats and was a Sea Cadet from about age 12. Sea Cadets gave me exposure to the Royal Navy through sports weekends, and other activities, and with a growing love of the sea, a career doing something I enjoyed seemed like a natural option.  And here I still am.”

His move to New Zealand came through looking for something new in his career.

“I was fortunate enough to meet some RNZN and wider NZDF personnel through some multi-national engagements that I was the British Navy representative for at the time.”

“I also got to attend a couple of meetings in New Zealand and through talking to people I thought that I might be able to put my knowledge and skills to some good in the RNZN.  In particular my amphibious experience was relevant as it was just as the NZDF was developing the Joint Amphibious Task Group concept. Also, my son was eight at the time, and New Zealand looked like a good place for him to grow up with all of the opportunities that the country has to offer.”

DSC 0016 hi res

CDR Welford on the bridge of HMNZS Aotearoa.

Since joining the RNZN, CDR Welford has served in operational roles including deploying to Vanuatu following Tropical Cyclone Pam in 2015, and as the Executive Officer to the Force Commander of the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai Peninsula in 2020, where he was awarded a Force Commander’s commendation. More recently he has served as the Deputy Director for Global Operations in HQJFNZ, where he was involved in the planning and execution of operations including the evacuation from Afghanistan in 2021 and the ongoing NZDF contribution to Ukraine’s self defence throughout 2022.

It’s an interesting challenge fitting into a well-established team part-way through a deployment, he says.

“First and foremost I demonstrate to them that they can have professional faith in me. The actions and decisions I make could easily affect their safety. I have a lot of experience but the Ship’s Company haven’t seen that, so making sure I did a good job of ship-handling as we left port from Singapore only three hours after the Change of Command ceremony helped to start that impression.”

It’s a new class of ship for him, he says. “It’s a big challenge learning how it works, and the only way to tackle that is to put the time in to learn, ask questions, walk the patch and get into in the books.”

DSC 00851

HMNZS Te Mana’s Seasprite helicopter departs the flight deck of HMNZS Aotearoa.

He describes his leadership style as ‘enabling’ and doesn’t feel like he ‘leads’ the Ship’s Company anywhere.

“They know where they need to go and I see it as my job to help them to get there. Sometimes the directions might need to be quite clear, but I would prefer to give them a metaphorical map, to help them find their own way as most of the time they know their parts of the ship better than I do.”

CDR Welford likes the two H’s of leadership: Humanity and Humility.

“You need to remember that your people are human, and that you are too, and that very few human beings are perfect.  If you then have enough humility to be able to admit you are not perfect, own your mistakes, and apologise if you are wrong, then that will set a good climate from which to build your team, or in my case Ship’s Company.”

He enjoys the spirit of Aotearoa’s Ship’s Company in what has been a busy deployment.

“In just my first two weeks in command we have replenished Australian, United States, and Canadian Navy warships, demonstrated New Zealand’s commitment to the International Law of the Sea during a transit through the South China Sea, exercised with the Philippines Navy, and hosted an official reception alongside in Manila, including the Ambassadors of eleven nations, Members of the Philippines parliament, very Senior Philippines Military Officers, and even more nations’ Defence Attaches and other VIPs.  At every turn Aotearoa’s sailors have had a smile on their face and put 100 percent effort into everything they have done. I certainly couldn’t ask for more.”