Australian Army engineers supporting Operation Tonga Assist 2022 have built large rafts to deliver bulky water and septic tanks to outlying Tongan islands fringed by reefs.   

Following the eruption of the Tonga-Hunga Ha`apai underwater volcano on January 15, a tsunami damaged or destroyed more than 300 homes and left a trail of smashed water and septic tanks.

Commanding Officer of HMAS Canberra, Captain Jace Hutchison, said replacement tanks were too light to be suspended under helicopters and in many cases reefs prevented delivery by landing craft.

“One of the challenging things about working in an archipelago with islands that have fringing reef systems is being able to access those islands,” Captain Hutchison said.

“Through team work and lateral thinking 156 tanks have been successfully delivered.”

Australian Army officer Major David Ferwerda challenged his 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment sappers to use ‘sappernuity’, which the book A Sapper’s War defines as a mix of ingenuity, imagination and inspiration.

“The sappers were encouraged to think laterally. Water and septic tanks were sealed and prepared for sea,” Major Ferwerda said.

A Royal Australian Navy landing craft from HMAS Canberra, rear, delivers water tanks to 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, soldiers in Zodiac inflatable boats off Kotu Island, Tonga, as part of Operation Tonga Assist 2022. Photo: Able Seaman Susan Mossop

Major Raechel Driscoll, from Canberra, said French Armed Forces in New Caledonia and Republic of Fiji Military Forces personnel assisted. 

“We were able to bung up the water tanks and truss them together with the help of the ship’s boatswains.”

The rafted tanks were loaded into landing craft, pushed into the sea, and towed ashore by 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, soldiers from small boats platoon carefully navigating their way through the fringing reefs.

Major Driscoll said local residents were fascinated, especially the children.

“The expressions on their faces were priceless,” Major Discoll said.

Each raft was nicknamed ‘SS Jacko’ after Canberra's cargo manager, Army soldier Warrant Officer Class Two Craig Jackson, who plans, projects and executes all deck tasks associated with moving freight between ship and shore.

“Seeing the tanks floating and moved to the islands was a great relief,” Warrant Officer Class Two Jackson said.