KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Australia and New Zealand have deployed ships and aircraft for humanitarian aid and disaster relief efforts following the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano on Saturday.
Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3 Orions and Royal Australian Air Force P-8A Poseidons have been conducting aerial surveillance flights at the request of the government of Tonga since Monday to assess the extent of the damage and enable the government of Tonga to determine the assistance required.
Royal New Zealand Navy offshore patrol vessel HMNZS Wellington (P55) and replenishment ship HMNZS Aotearoa (A11) both departed New Zealand on Monday and are expected to reach Tonga on Friday.
While the Tongan government has not made an official request, the New Zealand government decided to send the ships ahead first so they can respond quickly to any request for assistance.
“Communication issues caused by the eruption have made this disaster response particularly challenging. The delays mean we have taken the decision for both Wellington and Aotearoa to sail so they can respond quickly if called upon by the Tongan Government,” New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said in a Tuesday statement.
Wellington is carrying hydrographic survey and diving teams, as well as a SH-2G Seasprite helicopter. Aotearoa is bringing bulk water supplies and humanitarian and disaster relief stores.
Meanwhile, New Zealand is also planning for the deployment of multi-role support vessel HMNZS Canterbury (L421) with RNZAF NH90 helicopters and elements of the New Zealand Army embarked on it for additional relief assistance. At the moment, volcanic ash at Tonga’s Fua’amotu International Airport has prevented any relief assistance coming in from the air, though an effort to clear the runway is underway.
Australia has dispatched landing platform dock HMAS Adelaide (L01) to preposition itself in Brisbane to provide humanitarian aid and disaster relief support if requested by Tonga. Adelaide left its homeport of Fleet Base East, Sydney, on the Monday for Brisbane, Australia. The ship also has two RAAF C-130s ready to deliver relief supplies and communications equipment once the runway is cleared. Both Japan and China have offered to fly aid to Tonga and China has also offered to send medical teams via air.
In other developments, Littoral Combat Ship USS Jackson (LCS-6) conducted a port visit to Brunei’s Muara Naval Base last week following the conclusion of an at-sea exercise in the South China Sea. Jackson was drilling with Royal Brunei Navy offshore patrol vessel KDB Daruttaqwa (09), according to a Wednesday news release from U.S. 7th Fleet.
“The United States and Brunei have a long relationship that includes a notable visit by USS Constitution to Brunei Bay on April 6, 1845,” Capt. Tom Ogden, the commodore of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7, said in the news release. “Jackson’s visit and training with the RBN is a continuation of the 177 years of strong friendship and deep historical ties between Brunei and the U.S.”
Jackson is one of three LCS currently operating in the region. The other two are USS Tulsa (LCS-16) and USS Charleston (LCS-18). Imagery recently released by the U.S. Navy shows Tulsa at Apra Harbor, Guam, while Charleston is in the Philippine Sea.