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Hercules departs for Tonga carrying aid and other supplies

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Hercules flight departs for Tonga as Navy vessels draw nearer to Tongatapu. Photo: NZ Defence Force
Hercules flight departs for Tonga as Navy vessels draw nearer to Tongatapu. Photo: NZ Defence Force

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,” says Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta.

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 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,” says Defence Minister Peeni Henare.

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.

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,” Mahuta adds.

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,” she says.

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

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.

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