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INTERNATIONAL navies and shipping companies are assisting Tonga after a devastating volcanic eruption, using the country’s main port as a gateway to the island nation.

Underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai erupted on Saturday 15 January, triggering a powerful tsunami and covering the islands with volcanic ash.  

The eruption damaged Tonga’s undersea cable, cutting off phone and internet lines between the islands and hindering international communication.

A report from Reuters said Reliance, a specialist cable repair ship, has departed Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, and is expected to arrive in Tonga on 30 January. Repairs are expected to take several weeks.

In the meantime, satellite images and reports from surveillance flights are providing a visual overview of damage across the island.

An aerial photo of the Port of Nuku’alofa suggests port facilities and waterfront buildings were severely damaged by the tsunami.

Despite the visible damage, a survey conducted by hydrographers indicates the port is clear of hazards and is able to receive ships. Navy divers will also be assessing the integrity of the wharf infrastructure.

A customer notice from Neptune Pacific Direct Line said containership Southern Pearl will make an emergency call in Nuku’alofa to deliver emergency aid cargo from Fiji and Samoa. 

The ad-hoc delivery is scheduled for 13 February and will follow the ship’s regular calls in Wallis and Futuna. Cargo receivals in Fiji will be expanded to include cargo for Tonga from 25 January.

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The hydrographers who assessed the port arrived with HMNZS Wellington, a New Zealand naval vessel, which reached Tonga on Thursday 20 January.

By surveying the port, they have been able to prepare for the arrival of other ships delivering aid and humanitarian relief stores, such as HMNZS Aotearoa, which arrived the next day with 250,000 litres of drinking water.

HMNZS Canterbury is expected to arrive in Tonga later this week, carrying further relief supplies and equipment.

“The HMNZS Canterbury will have on board additional stores such as tarpaulins, water containers, milk powder, as well as engineering equipment to clear debris and two NH-90 helicopters,” New Zealand defence minister Peeni Henare said.

Australian defence vessel HMAS Adelaide is expected to arrive off the coast of Tonga this week, furthering disaster relief efforts through delivering engineering and medical supplies, and helicopters to support logistics and distribution.

“The forces on board Adelaide are tailored to the requests of the Government of Tonga and include provision of clean water, the movement of stores and reconnaissance,” Major General Scott Winter said.

Adelaide’s desalination capability can produce a significant amount of clean water, which is one of the first priorities.”

Australia and New Zealand are reportedly co-ordinating the international aid effort, with support from Britain, France, the United States, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea.

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