New Zealand is ready to assist Tonga in its recovery from Saturday night’s undersea eruption and tsunami, Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta and Defence Minister Peeni Henare said today.
“Following the successful surveillance and reconnaissance flight of a New Zealand P-3K2 Orion on Monday, imagery and details have been sent to relevant authorities in Tonga, to aid in decisions about what support is most needed,” said Nanaia Mahuta.
“However images show ashfall on the Nuku’alofa airport runway that must be cleared before a C-130 Hercules flight with humanitarian assistance can land,” said Nanaia Mahuta.
“In the meantime two Royal New Zealand Navy ships will depart New Zealand today. Communication issues caused by the eruption have made this disaster response particularly challenging. The delays mean we have taken the decision for both HMNZS Wellington and HMNZS Aotearoa to sail so they can respond quickly if called upon by the Tongan Government,” said Nanaia Mahuta.
“HMNZS Wellington will be carrying Hydrographic Survey and Diving Teams, as well as an SH-2G(I) Seasprite helicopter. HMNZS Aotearoa will carry bulk water supplies and humanitarian and disaster relief stores,” said Peeni Henare.
“Water is among the highest priorities for Tonga at this stage and HMNZS Aotearoa can carry 250,000 litres, and produce 70,000 litres per day through a desalination plant.
“The survey and diving teams are able to show changes to the seabed in the shipping channels and ports. They will also assess wharf infrastructure to assure the future delivery of aid and support from the sea,”
“The journey for both ships will take three days. They will return to New Zealand if not required,” Peeni Henare said.
“A C-130 Hercules aircraft is on standby to deliver humanitarian aid and disaster relief stores including collapsible water containers, generators and hygiene kits for families once the airport runway is cleared. Other deployments are possible in the next few days, subject to Tongan Government requests and permissions, and COVID-19 border rules,” Nanaia Mahuta said.
Tonga is currently free of COVID and operates strict border controls to keep COVID-19 out. All current support is being delivered in a contactless way. Officials are in discussions around long-term options for support.
The New Zealand Government has also allocated a further $500,000 in humanitarian assistance, taking our initial funding total to $1 million.