Royal New Zealand navy delivers medical supplies to Tonga

The Royal New Zealand Navy dive hydrographic vessel HMNZS Manawanui will make a contactless port visit to Tonga next week to deliver medical supplies on behalf of a New Zealand charity.

Manawanui, returning to New Zealand from the two-week Exercise RIMPAC near Hawaii, will arrive at Nuku’alofa on 15 September. The visit required diplomatic clearances from the Government of Tonga and coordination between the New Zealand High Commission and Tongan authorities to meet strict COVID-19 regulations. It is a logistical stop with no personnel allowed ashore. An offshore crane will lift the container of medical supplies onto the wharf.

Maritime Component Commander Commodore Mat Williams said Navy ships and crew were regularly in the Pacific carrying out maritime surveillance patrols in cooperation with Pacific partners and other agencies.

“We always look for opportunities to support our Pacific neighbours. In this case it’s been rewarding to work with the charity, Tongan authorities and other agencies so that one of our ships can berth and deliver charitable medical supplies which we hope will be of real benefit to people in Tonga.”

Auckland charity Take My Hands collects usable medical equipment and resources that are no longer being used in New Zealand and redistributes them to organisations in the Asia-Pacific region.

The container for Tonga carries medical trollies, paediatric cots, hospital beds, baby warmers, mattresses, a wheelchair, bed linen, scrubs and gloves, and a specialised stand for an ultra-sound machine.

It would be the first time a Navy ship had assisted the charity, Take My Hands founder and trustee Janette Searle said.

They usually work with commercial companies with spare space and capacity, or utilise containers at a discounted rate – anything to keep the costs down.

“The equipment is going to Vaiola Hospital. The obstetrics department has an ultra-sound machine but needed a stand. The cots and baby warmers are for the paediatrics department. We’ve packed that container like Tetris, fitting in the scrubs, gloves and linen.”

To date, the charity has distributed more than 114 tonnes of equipment to nine countries.

A container usually stays with a ship, but Dr Siale ‘Akau’ola, Chief Executive of the Tongan Ministry of Health said the hospital purchased this one to convert into a medical workshop.

“We are very pleased to receive this consignment from Take My Hands and we are grateful for the support from the New Zealand Navy.”

Lieutenant Commander Andy Mahoney, Manawanui’ s Commanding Officer, said he was “beyond pleased” it all came together, after becoming aware of the charity last year.

“I saw what they strived to support and I couldn’t help thinking about NZDF’s commitment to the Pacific Reset and delivering on our South West Pacific campaign plan with Manawanui’ s planned deployment for Exercise RIMPAC.”

He stayed in touch with the charity, resulting in the ship loading the 20-foot container before departing Devonport Naval Base.

“This was the result of great interaction and engagement with the charity, Tongan authorities and Joint Forces New Zealand, which supports NZDF operations and overseas deployments.”

Manawanui carried the container throughout RIMPAC, the world’s largest international maritime exercise, where a lot of ships were photographed.

As it was bright blue, LTCDR Mahoney decided to paint it grey before they arrived in Hawaii.

“I thought a grey container would be much more appropriate on the back of a grey ship.”

He also wanted the container, which looked a bit “tired”, to look nicer for Vaiola Hospital.

Ms Searle said she would love to work with the Navy again.

“I’m a big fan of cross-sector collaboration, all working together, doing what they are expert at. When that happens, amazing things happen.”

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