No announcements had been posted on The Beehive website, when Point of Order checked just before noon on what our ministers have been doing (a) in response to Tonga’s need for humanitarian relief and (b) in response to anything else.
But a fresh announcement has been posted since then in the names of Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta and Defence Minister Peeni Henare under the heading RNZAF C-130 Hercules flight departs for Tonga as Navy vessels draw nearer to Tongatapu
It says 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.
“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 under way 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.
Before receiving this announcement, Point of Order had turned to RNZ where we learned that a World Health Organisation representative in Tonga says the international airport has been cleared of volcanic ash which will allow humanitarian aid flights to arrive.
WHO liaison officer in Tonga Dr Yutaro Setoya, who is in Nuku’alofa on the main island Tongatapu, told RNZ’s Pacific reporter Eleisha Foon there had been a thick layer of ash on the runway preventing planes from landing.
“The runway, I understand, was cleared to be able to be used from outside [the country]. I understand humanitarian flights are coming in,” Setoya told RNZ by satellite phone.
One of Tonga’s main communications providers, Digicel, said it had restored international calls to Tonga via satellite but until the undersea communications cable is restored its network services will not be fully operational.
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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.