2 Aug 2011

Navy suspends captain amid misconduct inquiry

8:42 pm on 2 August 2011

A New Zealand Navy captain has been suspended following an incident allegedly involving alcohol.

Commander John Butcher has been stood down from the helm of HMNZS Te Mana for a year while the Navy investigates a shore visit in Vanuatu in the past fortnight.

Commander Butcher is being investigated for misconduct after the frigate stopped in at Port Vila for three nights.

The Navy is not making any official comment on the matter, except to say it had relieved one of its captains of his duties pending further investigations.

The matter is understood to have involved heavy drinking by the Commander Butcher, but did not occur while he was in control of Te Mana. The Navy says at no time was the $500 million vessel put in danger.

Vanuatu police say they received no reports of trouble during Te Mana's visit.

Commander Butcher joined the Navy as a midshipman in 1989 before rising to command one of its flagships. In 2006, he was appointed as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Long-standing problem, says Goff

The incident follows at least two courts martial in the past two years which involved sailors and alcohol.

Labour Party leader Phil Goff says drinking problems in the Navy need to be addressed.

Mr Goff, a former Minister of Defence, says the Navy has a long-standing, serious drinking problem - particularly involving young sailors.

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp says there are some alcohol issues, but they are probably a reflection of the drinking culture in New Zealand.

Dr Mapp says the Navy is investigating allegations of misconduct and has an established disciplinary process to go through.