Foreign Minister, Nanaia Mahuta says a surveillance and reconnaissance flight to Tonga by a New Zealand P-3K2 Orion on Monday has been successful.
“Imagery and details have been sent to relevant authorities in Tonga, to aid in decisions about what support is most needed,” Minister Mahuta said.
“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.”
In the meantime, two Royal New Zealand Navy ships will depart New Zealand today, she said.
“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 Ms 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 Defence Minister, 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,” Mr Henare said.
A C-130 Hercules aircraft is also 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, the Ministers confirmed.
“Other deployments are possible in the next few days, subject to Tongan Government requests and permissions, and COVID-19 border rules,” Ms Mahuta said.
The New Zealand Government has also allocated a further $500,000 in humanitarian assistance, taking NZ’s initial funding total to $1 million.
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.