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Milton Navy man takes on Niue tasks in tropical heat

Otago’s Joshua Phillips is revelling in the heat of his first ever overseas deployment as part of a New Zealand Defence Force mission in the Pacific where he is helping survey coastal and harbour areas.

26 July, 2022

The 20-year-old Royal New Zealand Navy Able Hydrographic Systems Operator, originally from Milton, is part of Exercise Tropic Twilight, a scheduled humanitarian aid and assistance activity taking place over three weeks in Niue.

The exercise involves a team from NZ Army’s 2nd Royal New Zealand Engineer Regiment and a hydrography unit from HMNZS Matataua, the Navy’s Operational Diving, Hydrographic Survey and Mine Counter Measures group. 

The engineers are upgrading facilities at Niue High School, while Able Hydrographic Systems Operator Phillips and his colleagues are conducting surveys of coastal and harbour areas as part of planning and preparation in the event of a natural disaster.

Alongside the exercise, the New Zealand Defence Force has also sent a team of civilian doctors and nurses, New Zealand Defence Force logistics personnel, personal protective equipment, 5,000 Rapid Antigen Tests and a seven-tonne generator to assist with a recent COVID-19 outbreak and power outages.

Able Hydrographic Systems Operator Phillips said the prospect of getting overseas, and putting his training to the test, was exciting after two years of lockdowns and isolation. 

His work involves Alofi Wharf, the island’s only commercial port, and two boat ramps in Avatele and Namukulu.

“We’re setting up and monitoring a tide gauge, and conducting a full bathymetric survey of the areas off Alofi wharf and the boat ramps. This will determine the lowest depths over the sea bed, find any hidden dangers, and show an accurate shape of the ocean floor and coral reefs. This information can be used for future work to improve the infrastructure at the three locations."

“The work is hot, but at the end of it we will have something to be proud of and plenty to show for the weeks spent on this amazing island.”

While his team is used to the confined quarters of a Navy ship, living on Niue has had its own challenges. 

“There’s no hot water or air conditioning, and the temperatures sits around 28 degrees with thick humidity.” 

Working with the NZ Army usually involved some banter.

“There’s always good-natured ribbing between sailors and soldiers and each other’s service, but we all get along really well and operate together seamlessly as you’d expect.”

He said the locals went out of their way to help them accomplish their tasks.

“They have tried to help us with one of our biggest off-duty challenges, which was to catch and release a coconut crab – so far we’ve been unsuccessful.

“All in all the trip has been amazing and something I would love to do again.”