The Australian Defence Force has deployed significant capability on Operation Tonga Assist 2022 as part of the Australian Government's support to Tonga, following the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano on January 15 and the following tsunami.
Navy, Army and Air Force personnel and P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, C-17A Globemaster III and C-130J Hercules transport aircraft, and HMAS Adelaide are all part of Operation Tonga Assist 2022.
HMAS Adelaide arrived in Tonga on January 26 with 250 pallets of humanitarian supplies and over 600 personnel and equipment to support engineering, medical and logistic taskings.
The crew conducted a COVID-19 safe and contactless unload of 88 tonnes of humanitarian supplies onto Vanu Wharf in Nuku’alofa, and is awaiting further requests from the Government of Tonga.
If required, Adelaide can produce more than 20,000 litres of fresh water and enough electricity to power a small town. The ship also has a 40-bed hospital with operating theatres and a critical-care ward.
Commander Joint Task Group 637.6 and Commanding Officer HMAS Adelaide, Captain Stuart Watters, said all support to Tonga will align with agreed Tongan COVID-19 protocols.
“The ADF takes COVID-19 safety seriously and is fully complying with Tonga’s requirements,” said Captain Watters.
All personnel involved in the operation are subject to tight COVID-19 safety measures and are fully vaccinated and have been PCR tested. Personnel onboard Adelaide who have subsequently tested positive are quarantined from the rest of the crew for seven days and must return a negative PCR result before being released.
“Although COVID-19 has presented unique challenges, everyone is happy to be here helping our Tongan family in their time of need,” said Captain Watters.
ADF assistance to Tonga began shortly after the tsunami decimated the islands.
On January 17, the first of two RAAF P-8A Poseidon aircraft flew over the central islands of Tonga to determine the extent of the damage, particularly in remote locations.
RAAF C-17A Globemaster III and C-130J Hercules aircraft departed RAAF Base Amberley from January 24, carrying vital humanitarian stores – delivered in a COVID-19 safe, contactless way – including bottled water and purification tablets, food, tents, dignity and hygiene kits and Telstra communications equipment (Digicel).
Wing Commander Dean Bolton, Commanding Officer of No. 36 Squadron, said the relief missions to Tonga were unique for Air Force.
“Our crews are well accustomed to delivering aid where it’s needed, but the presence of volcanic ash complicated our response,” Wing Commander Bolton said.
“We’re grateful for the effort and labour of work crews in Tonga who cleared the runway at Fuaʻamotu international airport of ash, with much of that effort being done by hand.”
Defence is coordinating its efforts through the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade, and working with international partners from New Zealand, Fiji, France, Japan, UK, USA and India.
For imagery of ADF support to Tonga visit: http://images.defence.gov.au/S20220022.