New Zealand is sending two naval ships to Tonga, after ash on Nuku’alofa airport’s runway prevented the landing of the Hercules flight that was scheduled to bring in aid.

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The ships will take over urgent supplies including water and also survey and diving teams to assess the shipping channels and ports.

Defence Minister Peeni Henare said the HMNZS Wellington Navy ship would take the survey and diving teams and a Seasprite helicopter, while the HMNZS Aotearoa would take bulk water supplies and other humanitarian and disaster relief supplies.

“Water is among the highest priorities for Tonga at this stage and HMNZS Aotearoa can carry 250,000 litres, and produce 70,000 litres per day through a desalination plant,” he said.

“The survey and diving teams are able to show changes to the seabed in the shipping channels and ports. They will also assess wharf infrastructure to assure the future delivery of aid and support from the sea.”

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Tonga was hit by a tsunami following a large eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai underwater volcano on Saturday. Communication with Tonga has been limited due to power cuts and an undersea communications cable that was impacted.

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said the Hercules aircraft was still on standby to take over collapsible water containers, generators and hygiene kits for families once the airport runway is cleared.

“Communication issues caused by the eruption have made this disaster response particularly challenging.

“Following the successful surveillance and reconnaissance flight of a New Zealand P-3K2 Orion on Monday, imagery and details have been sent to relevant authorities in Tonga, to aid in decisions about what support is most needed,” she said.

“Other deployments are possible in the next few days, subject to Tongan Government requests and permissions, and Covid-19 border rules,” she said.

Funding from New Zealand was topped up to $1 million, after a further $500,000 was allocated.