HMAS Canberra has arrived in Tonga to relieve HMAS Adelaide on Operation Tonga Assist 2022.
Canberra was guided into Nuku’alofa by Guardian-class patrol boat VOEA Ngahau Siliva with Adelaide and Supply in company.
The harbour entry marked a handover of command between sister ships Adelaide and Canberra as the local ADF Joint Task Group for Operation Tonga Assist 2022, supporting the wider Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade-led effort.
Commanding Officer of Adelaide, Captain Stuart Watters, handed the Operation Tonga Assist Task Group over to Canberra’s Commanding Officer, Captain Jace Hutchison, to continue to coordinate Defence activities in Tonga.
Captain Watters said ongoing partnerships have been on full display in supporting the Government of Tonga recover from the volcanic eruption and tsunami.
“HMAS Adelaide arrived on Australia Day and the Australian Defence Force immediately began working with Tonga and New Zealand to provide relief and emergency supplies,” Captain Watters said.
“Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) personnel joined us on Adelaide soon thereafter and together we were requested to assist recovery efforts on Atata Island.
“We also worked with other partner nations including Fiji, France, Japan, United Kingdom and the United States, which contributed air and maritime support to assist the Tongan people.
“The Pacific family spirit enabled us to achieve a great deal in a few weeks and we were able to clear the island of a significant amount of debris and repair infrastructure on Atata and neighboring islands.”
Adelaide and her crew delivered over 88 tonnes of humanitarian assistance during their deployment.
The ship’s embarked Australian Army CH-47 Chinook and Navy MRH-90 Taipan helicopters also conducted reconnaissance, delivered equipment and dropped personnel and stores where they were needed most.
“CH-47 Chinooks transported Digicel technicians to the top of Kao Island to reconnect communications to the Ha’apai island Group,” Captain Watters said.
“The island is a stratovolcano and its micro climate made for very challenging flying conditions on the peak where the communications towers are situated.
“The pilots navigated the testing conditions and communications were restored, which was a great result.”
Tongan-born Navy padre Chaplain Simote Vaisima Finau spoke to the community directly as he led church services from Adelaide’s bridge.
“To support the community through prayer was my way to give back to the people,” Chaplain Finau said.
VOEA Ngahau Siliva, which led the formation entry into Nuku’alofa, is the second Guardian-class patrol boat gifted by Australia to His Majesty’s Armed Forces of Tonga under the Pacific Maritime Security Program.
The ADF is deployed on Operation Tonga Assist 2022 as part of the Australian Government’s support to the Tongan Government following the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano.
“Together with the RFMF we have assisted our Pacific family and we will soon be joined by the New Caledonia French Armed Forces from New Caledonia on board HMAS Canberra,” he said.
“HMAS Canberra will replace Adelaide and the Pacific family will continue to assist the Tongan people in their time of need.”
Canberra’s first task is to help establish a distribution centre for supplies in the Ha’api island group at the request of the Government of Tonga.
Adelaide will return to Fleet Base East in Sydney on March 11 while Canberra will continue to assist the Government of Tonga in its recovery efforts.
Auxiliary oiler Supply arrived in Tonga on February 12 to offload disaster relief stores, has sustained other vessels delivering assistance including the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Ship Osumi, and has assisted with clean-up efforts on Nomuka Island.