New Zealand Navy Ships Head for Tonga to Aid Volcano Recovery

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) said it was sending two naval ships to Tonga on January 18, carrying personnel, equipment, water, and other supplies to the island nation after it was affected by an underwater volcano eruption on Saturday.

The ships were dispatched after a reconnaissance flight carried out by the New Zealand Air Force on Monday revealed that ashfall was covering the runway at the airport near Tonga’s capital, Nukuʻalofa.

The journey for both ships would take three days, officials said.

In a statement on Tuesday, New Zealand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nanaia Mahuta, said the runway needed to be cleared before a C-130 Hercules aircraft could land to deliver humanitarian assistance. The aircraft was 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,” Mahuta said.

Mahuta added that response efforts had been hindered by communications issues caused by the eruption. “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,” Mahuta said.

This footage shows the first ship, HMNZS Wellington, departing from Devonport Naval Base in Auckland on Tuesday with “divers and hydrographers” and a Seasprite helicopter on board, the NZDF said.

A second ship, HMNZS Aotearoa, was due to sail later on Tuesday, carrying water and humanitarian aid and disaster relief supplies, officials said.

“Water is among the highest priorities for Tonga at this stage, and HMNZS Aotearoa can carry 250,000 liters, and produce 70,000 liters per day through a desalination plant,” said New Zealand’s Minister of Defence, Peeni Henare.

The New Zealand government said that because Tonga was currently free of COVID-19 and was operating strict border controls, “all current support is being delivered in a contactless way.” Credit: NZ Defence Force via Storyful

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