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Tonga Response

On Saturday 15 January, a significant eruption of underwater volcano Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai resulted in a tsunami in Tonga and surrounding areas. Below is information on the New Zealand Defence Force support. The newest information is on top.

View of Nomuka, Tonga taken by a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion during a reconnaissance flight on Monday 17 January

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18 February, 5.00pm

Crew on one of our Royal New Zealand Air Force Hercules have today flown to Tonga with vaccines, personal protective equipment and rapid antigen tests to support Tonga’s Covid-19 response.

Government agencies in New Zealand have been working together to get supplies to Tonga, which is responding to Covid-19 in the community and also recovering from the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai eruption and subsequent tsunami in January.

Today’s flight follows a flight earlier this month also with vaccines, PPE and tests as part of New Zealand’s support to Tonga.

Crew from No 40 Squadron on our Hercules aircraft also delivered humanitarian aid and disaster relief supplies over four flights following the eruption and tsunami. 

View previous updates here.  

NZDF support to Tonga

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For all media enquiries, please call Defence Public Affairs on +64 21 487 980 or media@nzdf.mil.nz

Previous updates

11 February, 5.00pm: The New Zealand Defence Force will bring home HMNZ Ships Canterbury and Wellington which have been in Tonga assisting with relief efforts following last month’s undersea eruption and tsunami.

Commander Joint Forces New Zealand, Rear Admiral Jim Gilmour, said that with the transition from an immediate relief response to Tonga’s longer term recovery, the two ships were no longer required to remain.

“The NZDF provided an immediate response to relief efforts and over the past month we have supported Tonga with deliveries of essential supplies, food and water to help meet the basic needs of those who have been affected by this disaster,’’ Rear Admiral Gilmour said.

“The Kingdom of Tonga has expressed thanks for our help with the initial relief response, and they’re looking now to the longer term recovery ahead. As always, the NZDF remains ready to assist if we’re called on again. We have aircraft on standby to take more supplies if required.

“Our Navy ships, HMNZS Canterbury and HMNZS Wellington, will leave Tonga today and will arrive back in New Zealand early next week.’’ Read the full media release here. 

9 February, 4.00pm: Royal New Zealand Navy ships HMNZS Canterbury and HMNZS Wellington are currently near Nuku’alofa. Canterbury was at sea last week producing potable water using the ship’s desalination equipment. The ship went alongside Vuna Wharf yesterday to offload the water generated on the ship. This is done via a contactless delivery to tankers on the wharf, for onward distribution to Tongan communities. Crew on the NH90 helicopter, on board Canterbury, last week flew Digicel technicians to uninhabited Kao Island, where the technicians have been working to restore communications including to the Ha’apai group of islands. The helicopter is due this afternoon to relocate the technicians off Kao Island.

HMNZS Wellington is anchored in the harbour, after last week going to the northernmost island of Niuafo’ou, where Navy hydrographers and divers surveyed a wharf and shipping lanes.

On Saturday, a Royal New Zealand Air Force Hercules carried out what was our fifth Hercules flight taking supplies to Tonga. Supplies included Pfizer vaccines, personal protective equipment and Rapid Antigen Tests supplied by the Ministry of Health to assist Tongan authorities with their COVID-19 response. The cargo also included transformers to help restore the electrical power system. Humanitarian aid and disaster relief supplies on our aircraft are coordinated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to support Tonga’s response to the natural disaster.

4 February, 4.30pm: The New Zealand Defence Force has been continuing to produce fresh water, survey harbour entrances and shipping lanes, and has been assisting efforts to restore communications links to the Ha’apai group of islands in Tonga. 

Royal New Zealand Navy ship HMNZS Canterbury has been at sea this week producing fresh water. The ship can produce up to 80,000 litres a day of fresh water, of which about half is available to supply for use by Tonga communities. Once alongside in Nuku’alofa, the ship transfers the potable water in a contactless delivery, by piping water from the ship to tankers on the wharf. The water is then transported to Tongan communities in need. 

Producing fresh water has been one of the priorities for the ship, after drinking water in Tonga was affected by ash following the eruption last month.

Also this week:

  • A Royal New Zealand Air Force NH90 helicopter on board Canterbury flew Digicell technicians and equipment to the summit on uninhabited Kao Island, where the technicians are working to restore communications links, including to the Ha’apai group of islands which were badly affected by the eruption and tsunami.
  • HMNZS Wellington has been to the northernmost island of Niuafo’ou, where Navy hydrographers and divers surveyed a wharf and shipping lanes.
  • Canterbury has also been working with Tongan authorities on coordinating international ships, delivering aid and relief supplies, in and out of Nuku’alofa harbour in Tonga.

2 February, 5.00pm: The NZDF is continuing to assist Tonga with relief efforts, under the strict protocols we have been operating under to prevent transmission of the virus, following the detection of Covid cases in Tonga and the lockdown. 

All our deployed personnel have been following strict protocols throughout the course of the deployment. Our deployed personnel are double vaccinated, they produced negative PCR tests prior to deployment and have tested negative multiple times throughout the course of their deployment, using both Rapid Antigen Tests and PCR tests. NZDF deliveries of aid and relief supplies have been contactless. Protocols around hand hygiene and wearing of PPE when handling supplies, and sanitising supplies have been followed throughout the course of our support to Tonga’s relief efforts. 

The focus of our efforts in Tonga this week includes generating more water for Tongatapu, utilising HMNZS Canterbury’s desalination equipment. This is carried out in a contactless way by piping water from the ship to tankers on the wharf. We are also supporting the establishment of the communications links on uninhabited Kao Island utilising the NH90 helicopter on board Canterbury. The link on Kao needs to be fixed to restore communications to the Ha’apai group of islands which were badly hit in the natural disaster. 

Further tasks will depend on requests from Tongan authorities. No decisions have yet been made on the completion of the deployment.

28 January, 12.49pm: Reinforcements arrive. HMNZS Aotearoa’s Commanding Officer Captain Simon Griffiths explains the support our Royal New Zealand Navy and Royal New Zealand Air Force have provided to Tonga recently.

From surveying harbour entrances and supplying fresh desalinated water, to airdropping supplies and refuelling partner navies, we’ve been privileged to provide humanitarian aid and disaster relief to the people of Tonga.

Aotearoa has now handed over to HMNZS Canterbury, and will head back to New Zealand in the coming days.

27 January, 6.00pm: Messages of support. NZDF personnel of Tongan descent embarked on HMNZS Canterbury talk about the importance of their involvement in providing aid to Tonga.

“Mixed emotions. I think one part is emotional in terms of what happened to the country, but also proud to be supporting the Tongan Government” ~ Ordinary Seaman Combat Specialist Dion ‘Aho.

Watch the video here

27 January, 5.00pm: A Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules has today delivered more essential supplies to assist relief efforts in Tonga following the eruption and tsunami this month.

The flight today was New Zealand’s third by a Hercules carrying humanitarian aid and disaster relief supplies.

The aircraft left RNZAF Base Auckland with food, water purifiers, medical supplies, chainsaw sets, and communications equipment including satellite phones, handheld marine radios and VHF radios.

Royal New Zealand Navy ship HMNZS Canterbury arrived in Tonga yesterday and, in a contactless delivery, has offloaded stores including milk powder, tarpaulins and water pumps. Personnel on board the ship remain ready to assist with relief efforts as directed by Tongan authorities.

HMNZS Canterbury’s arrival in Tonga means Navy ship HMNZS Aotearoa can depart tonight, after about a week in Tonga, so the ship can continue with a planned mission to Antarctica next month.

HMNZS Aotearoa took bulk water supplies to Tonga and has been producing safe drinking water, providing more than 415,000 litres of fresh drinking water for Tongan communities.

HMNZS Aotearoa has also been providing fuel to Tongan Navy vessels involved in distributing aid and fresh water, as well as refuelling ships from nations such as Australia, the US, France and UK assisting with relief efforts. Today, HMNZS Aotearoa refuelled the Royal Navy’s HMS Spey.

HMNZS Wellington has divers and hydrographers on board who have been inspecting and surveying damage to infrastructure, ports of entry and harbours, ensuring ships, including those of partner nations, can safely enter to deliver aid to Tonga.

HMNZS Wellington is transiting to Niuatopatapu to conduct harbour surveys and relocate a navigational mark that moved in the natural disaster.

26 January, 5.00pm: Royal New Zealand Navy ship HMNZS Canterbury is in Tongan waters and is due to berth at Nuku’alofa tomorrow as the New Zealand Defence Force continues to support relief efforts in Tonga following the undersea eruption and tsunami.

The ship will offload stores including milk powder, tarpaulins and water pumps in a contactless delivery.

HMNZS Canterbury is the third Navy ship to be deployed to Tonga to assist with the immediate response. New Zealand Army engineers and plant operators, vehicles and equipment are on the ship and are ready to assist as directed by Tongan authorities.

Communications systems have been affected by the natural disaster and a Royal New Zealand Air Force NH90 helicopter, embarked on Canterbury, is set to fly communications engineers to repair communications links to the badly hit Ha’apai island group.

Tomorrow, the next Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules flight is scheduled to depart for Tonga. This will be the third Hercules flight and it will deliver food and other essential supplies to support relief efforts in Tonga. Two flights by a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion were carried out last week to provide reconnaissance to assist with initial planning for the response to the natural disaster.

Navy ships HMNZS Aotearoa and HMNZS Wellington have been in Tonga for almost a week. Both ships delivered humanitarian aid and disaster relief supplies.

HMNZS Wellington has specialist teams of divers and hydrographers on board who have been inspecting and surveying damage to infrastructure, ports of entry and harbours, ensuring ships, including those of partner nations which are also assisting with relief efforts, can safely enter to deliver aid to Tonga.

HMNZS Aotearoa took bulk water supplies to Tonga and has also been producing safe drinking water on the ship. The ship has now provided more than 415,000 litres of fresh drinking water for Tongan communities.

HMNZS Aotearoa has also begun replenishing ships with fuel, including those that have been arriving in Tonga from nations such as Australia, the US, and UK to enable them to operate and provide relief throughout the Kingdom of Tonga. HMNZS Aotearoa has also provided fuel to Tongan Navy vessels involved in distributing aid and fresh water.

The offloading of stores, water delivery and replenishment of vessels are being carried out without making physical contact with people in Tonga in line with COVID-19 prevention protocols.

Replenishment at seas with HMNZS Aotearoa and HMS Spey

25 January, 5.00pm: Royal New Zealand Navy’s HMNZS Aotearoa refuels Tonga’s Guardian-class patrol boat VOEA Ngahau Siliva in Nuku'alofa Harbour.

The refuelling is carried out in a contactless way, in line with COVID-19 prevention protocols.

Watch the view here.

24 January 7.00pm: A Seasprite helicopter embarked aboard HMNZS Wellington in Nuku’alofa carried out a reconnaissance flight over Kao Island in preparation for possible future tasks. Wellington remains refuelled and reprovisioned alongside HMNZS Aotearoa whose crew has continued with the task of providing fresh water for distribution to the people of Tonga. Aotearoa has also fuelled a Tongan patrol boat. HMNZS Canterbury remains en route to Tonga.

23 January, 7.10pm: The provision of clean water to the people of Tonga has continued to be a priority for the crew of  HMNZS Aotearoa, following the eruption and tsunami which struck Tonga more than a week ago. 

Aotearoa has offloaded more than 260,000 litres of water since its arrival in the Kingdom. The water has been delivered into tankers and water tanks and been widely distributed. The water is being delivered in a strictly contactless manner.

Navy teams from HMNZS Wellington have carried out survey tasks in the vicinity of Nafanua Harbour, ‘Eua Island. Wellington has now returned to Nuku’alofa where they have refuelled ready for further tasks.

HMNZS Canterbury remains en route to Tonga with essential aid supplies, Royal New Zealand Air Force helicopters and New Zealand Army engineers on board. Canterbury is expected to arrive in Tonga early next week.

22 January, 5.45pm: Update on NZDF support to Tonga

22 January, 2.45pm: Overnight HMNZS Canterbury set sail for Tonga and will arrive in Tonga early next week.

The ship is carrying two Royal New Zealand Air Force NH90 helicopters, personnel and supplies. Working with the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the supplies include water, tarpaulins and milk powder, while there are also vehicles and several containers of construction equipment on board in case requested by Tongan authorities to assist with the recovery efforts following Saturday’s undersea eruption and tsunami. 

We have three ships deployed to assist Tonga, the HMNZS Wellington, HMNZS Aotearoa and HMNZS Canterbury. A Royal New Zealand Air Force Hercules aircraft has also delivered aid today.

We are proud to support our Pacific whānau wherever needed.

HMNZS Canterbury is loaded at Devonport Naval Base before leaving during the night on 21 January 2022

22 January, 10.49am: Within an hour of HMNZS Aotearoa berthing in Nuku’alofa yesterday, the task of offloading 250,000 litres of bulk water had begun. 

At the same time, the ship’s desalination plant was drawing seawater from the harbour and through the osmosis process, turning it into fresh water which was then tested and transferred into waiting water tankers. Both the bulk and the desalinated water was immediately transported throughout the mainland to those areas experiencing a critical water shortage. 

Aotearoa will be able to make 70,000 litres of fresh water every day for local consumption. 

21 January, 3.06pm:  New Zealand Army engineers and plant operators are among those who have been preparing for deployment to Tonga onboard Royal New Zealand Navy’s HMNZS Canterbury.

They’ll be able to help purify water, assist with clean-up of debris, and help out with construction tasks to make buildings safe to use, if this help is needed.

21 January, 1.28pm: Royal New Zealand Air Force’s No. 3 Squadron has readied two NH90 helicopters to assist the volcano and tsunami-affected Kingdom of Tonga.

These aircraft will be flown to Auckland from Base Ohakea, and will then be transported to Tonga on Royal New Zealand Navy’s HMNZS Canterbury.

No. 3 Squadron has the capability to operate from either the Canterbury or ashore as required.

Additional maintenance has been carried out to prepare the aircraft for operating embarked, and extra corrosion preventative measures applied to mitigate the harsh ash-laden and saline environment. Extra parts, tooling and equipment have also been packed to support the operation.

21 January, 10.00am: Royal New Zealand Navy's HMNZS Wellington arrived in Tonga yesterday and hydrographers were immediately deployed to survey approaches to Nuku’alofa in preparation for the arrival this morning of HMNZS Aotearoa.

Navy Divers will also be checking on the integrity of the wharf infrastructure.

Royal New Zealand Navy Hydrographers surveying approaches to Nuku’alofa in preparation for the arrival this morning of HMNZS Aotearoa.

20 January, 9.30pm: The Royal New Zealand Hercules C-130H(NZ) delivered the humanitarian aid and disaster relief supplies and returned to Aotearoa New Zealand.

20 January, 12:42pm: RNZAF C-130 Hercules flight departs for Tonga as Navy vessels draw nearer to Tongatapu (beehive.govt.nz)

A Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules has departed Base Auckland Whenuapai for Tonga carrying aid supplies, as the New Zealand aid effort ramps up, Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta and Defence Minister Peeni Henare said today.

“The aircraft is carrying humanitarian aid and disaster relief supplies, including water containers, kits for temporary shelters, generators, hygiene and family kits, and communications equipment,” Nanaia Mahuta said.

“The delivery of supplies will be contactless and the aircraft is expected to be on the ground for up to 90 minutes before returning to New Zealand,” Peeni Henare said.

The aircraft is due to arrive in Tonga at approximately 4pm NZ time.  No aircraft could land before now because the runway had to be cleared of volcanic ash. The New Zealand response to the developing situation in Tonga is well underway and the offshore patrol vessel HMNZS Wellington is expected to arrive in Tonga later today. It is carrying hydrographic and dive personnel and also has a Seasprite helicopter to assist with supply delivery.

The Wellington’s first task will be to check shipping channels and wharf approaches to Tonga’s port to ensure vessels can go alongside, and check the structural integrity of the wharf,” Peeni Henare said.

Meanwhile, the maritime sustainment vessel HMNZS Aotearoa has bulk water supplies on board, as well as other supplies, and is expected to arrive in Tonga tomorrow.

“Water is among the highest priorities for Tonga, and the Aotearoa can carry 250,000 litres, and produce 70,000 litres per day through a desalination plant,” Nanaia Mahuta said.

New Zealand is standing by to offer further assistance.

“We are talking to Tonga about what more they need from us and we can assure them of our ongoing support,” Nanaia Mahuta said.

“We are also preparing to deploy HMNZS Canterbury, with two NH90 helicopters on board, which is planning to leave on Saturday,” Peeni Henare said.

Tonga is currently free of COVID and operates strict border controls to keep COVID-19 out.

Communications with Tonga remain limited. Some 2G connectivity has been restored for telecommunications provider Digicel customers. However, demand is exceeding capacity and connection inconsistent. With just a portion of calls being connected, people are asked to be patient. Work is under way to add more capacity.

19 January, 3.30pm: The New Zealand Defence Force’s (NZDF) response to the developing situation in Tonga is well underway with aid and support en route to the Pacific island nation.

On Monday, a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion flight provided imagery which was analysed and has substantially assisted Tonga and NZDF to understand the impact of the events in Tonga, as well as damage to infrastructure to inform response options following Saturday’s undersea eruption and tsunami.

Another P-3K2 Orion flight departed RNZAF Base Auckland today to undertake further surveillance of Tonga and to also capture imagery over the southern Lau group of Fiji. The aircraft is due back in Auckland this evening and images collected will be passed on to Tongan and Fijian officials to assist them with recovery efforts.

On Tuesday, Royal New Zealand Navy ships HMNZS Wellington and HMNZS Aotearoa departed for Tonga.

HMNZS Aotearoa has bulk water supplies on board and both ships are carrying humanitarian aid and disaster relief supplies.

HMNZS Wellington has Navy hydrographic and dive personnel to survey changes to shipping channels and also has a Seasprite helicopter on board to assist with supply delivery.

Both ships are making good progress and are due in Tongan waters on Friday.

It is hoped that clearing of the runway at Fua’amotu International Airport will allow New Zealand’s first C-130 Hercules flight of relief supplies to proceed this week. 

Planning and preparations continue for the deployment of HMNZS Canterbury, with NH90 helicopters on board, elements from the New Zealand Army including engineers, and a tri-Service command team.

Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion Reconnaissance flight

18 January, 4.11pm: HMNZS Wellington sailed from Devonport Naval Base today with personnel, equipment and supplies ready to assist the volcano and tsunami-affected Kingdom of Tonga.

The ship is carrying divers and hydrographers from HMNZS Matataua to survey shipping channels and ports and has a Seasprite helicopter on board to assist with supply delivery.

HMNZS Aotearoa is also expected to sail today taking much-needed water and humanitarian aid and disaster relief supplies to Tonga.

18 January, 2.50pm: HMNZS Wellington has departed Auckland and HMNZS Aotearoa will depart later today. 

18 January, 1.46pm: New Zealand prepared to send support to Tonga (beehive.govt.nz) 

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. 

17 January, 4.30pm: A Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion aircraft left RNZAF Base Auckland today at about 0820hrs. The crew’s plans were to fly first over the Ha’apai group of islands, and then fly over Tongatapu to check the status of the runway and port. The aircraft is not landing in Tonga and is scheduled to arrive back at RNZAF Base Auckland this evening. So far, we haven’t had a formal request from the Kingdom of Tonga to provide further support, apart from this initial reconnaissance flight but, as always, we remain ready to respond if asked to do so.

The NZDF has a RNZAF C-130H(NZ) Hercules on standby to fly to Tonga tomorrow to deliver aid supplies if is safe to land at the runway on Tongatapu. We have placed personnel on shortened notices to move and Royal New Zealand Navy ships are being readied for deployment and may deploy ahead of a formal request for assistance, given the distance to Tonga. Further military flights are also possible, to transport relief supplies and personnel as required. 

Note to media: Please note there will be delays in releasing any imagery being captured due to various reasons, however we will notify all media when imagery becomes available. When it does, it will be in the NZDF media Dropbox. 

Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion reconnaissance flight

17 January, 8:42am: A Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion aircraft has left Base Auckland this morning for Tonga to assist in an initial impact assessment of the area and low-lying islands. 

16 January, 2.00pm: We are working hard to see how we can assist our Pacific neighbours after the volcanic eruption near Tonga. A Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion aircraft is on stand-by to provide aerial surveillance as soon as atmospheric conditions allow. Flying conditions are currently hazardous. We will provide more information once the situation and ways we can help becomes clearer. Our thoughts are with those who have been affected at this time.

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