The massive eruption of an underwater volcano near Tonga in the Pacific on Saturday 15 January caused a tsunami that has devastated its smaller outer islands and blocked the runway of its main airport with ash.
On 17 January, Australia sent an Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Boeing P-8A Poseidon based at RAAF Base Edinburgh to help carry out surveillance of the islands devastated by the disaster. It was joined by a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) Boeing P-3K2 Orion aircraft which few into Tongan airspace on a reconnaissance mission, feeding back its findings to the Tongan government.
The ash-covered airport runway in Tonga was expected to be cleared by 19 January, paving the way for aid and support arriving by air. One of the first aircraft to land in Tonga was an RAAF Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules that left Amberley Air Base south of Brisbane.
At the same time Australia’s HMAS Adelaide was also being loaded in Brisbane with medical and engineering equipment, as well as personnel. It would take five days to travel to Tonga. HMAS Adelaide is a Canberra-class landing helicopter dock (LHD) ship of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and is the largest ever built for Australia. Australia’s Senator Payne said it would act as a base for Australian helicopters that will service populations on outer islands, which are expected to have sustained significant damage.
In the meantime, New Zealand sent both the HMNZS Wellington and HMNZS Aotearoa from 17 January on the three-day sail to Tonga. Defence Minister Peeni Henare said the Wellington is a Protector-class offshore patrol vessel (OPV) that would carry hydrographic survey and diving teams and an Kaman SH-6G Super Seasprite helicopter, and the auxiliary ship, Aotearoa would take “bulk water supplies and humanitarian and disaster relief stores”.
by David Oliver