New Zealand is to test its ability to stop materials used to make weapons of mass destruction (WMD) entering the country.
Exercise Maru, a multi-nation, multi-agency exercise led by the New Zealand Customs Service with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the New Zealand Defence Force, will be held in Auckland next weeek.

Countries taking part in the exercise include Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States.

New Zealand Customs Service deputy comptroller of operations Robert Lake said operational activities during the exercise would include ship-boarding and searching of vessels and containers.

“The exercise will have a strong law enforcement focus on preventing the proliferation of WMD-related materials across our borders, including examining the legal issues which arise after a WMD item has been intercepted,” Lake said.

New Zealand was committed to the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), an international initiative under which participating countries co-operate to stop illicit shipments of weapons of mass destruction, he said.

“PSI exercises have traditionally been led by defence agencies but Exercise Maru is one of the first to be led by a law enforcement agency,” Lake said.

Customs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said the exercise was not about halting the transport of a one-piece weapon.

“Rather it was about combating the spread of components and technologies that could be used to manufacture such weapons.

“Weapons of mass destruction are built with an array of components that may have perfectly peaceful, legitimate, everyday uses as well as weapons applications,” she said.

She said chemicals used as cleaning agents could be used in weapons production and medical products could be used in the production of agents for biological weapons.

“Some might wonder why New Zealand, a small country far from states of proliferation concern, should need to be part of the Proliferation Security Initiative and what risk weapons of mass destruction pose to us,” she said.

But no country was immune from the threat of the spread of such weapons, she said.

Exercise Maru will take place in the Hauraki Gulf and Ports of Auckland from 15-19 September.