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SHIPPING companies servicing the Pacific Islands are preparing to support relief efforts in Tonga in the aftermath of an underwater volcanic eruption.

Reports of damage are still emerging, with new information suggesting the main port of Nuku’alofa has been impacted.

The volcano, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, erupted on Saturday 15 January. It triggered a tsunami in Tonga and subsequent tsunami warnings across other Pacific Island nations, as well as in Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.

A report from Reuters said communication with the island is still limited after an undersea cable was severed, cutting off phone and internet lines.

So far, three people have been confirmed dead, and several injuries have been reported.

According to Reuters, a statement from the office of the Prime Minister of Tonga confirmed three islands had suffered extensive damage. The impact has hindered response efforts.

“Challenges to sea and air transportation remain due to damage sustained by the wharves and the ash that is covering the runways,” the statement said.

Australia and New Zealand dispatched surveillance flights to assess the damage in Tonga, which have returned images informing the nations’ efforts to provide support.

“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,” New Zealand Foreign Affairs minister Nanaia Mahuta said.

“However, images show ashfall on the Nuku’alofa airport runway that must be cleared before a C-130 Hercules flight with humanitarian assistance can land,” she said.

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Two New Zealand Royal Navy ships departed for Tonga on Tuesday 18 January, carrying water supplies and humanitarian relief stores, as well as diving teams.

“The survey and diving teams are able to show changes to the seabed in the shipping channels and ports,” Ms Mahuta said.

“They will also assess wharf infrastructure to assure the future delivery of aid and support from the sea.”

The nation’s capital Nuku’alofa is home to Tonga’s main port, which handles breakbulk, containers, liquid, and ro-ro cargoes.

Port of Nuku’alofa is a stop in several Pacific Islands shipping services and is frequented by Neptune Pacific Direct Line.

NPDL said in a customer notice the port has been closed until it can be surveyed to ascertain damage. The survey is expected to take place in the coming days.

“Our container depot was inundated, and the clean-up has begun to make it operational. We understand [there is] no major damage to machinery.”

NPDL said it intends to work with the government to assist with vessel plans to supply goods to the island.

“Our management and trade teams are reviewing what is the most urgent aid cargo, how quickly we can deliver [to] Tonga and what we are going to require from shippers and consignee to ensure cargo is direct exactly where the relief is required.”

DCN understands other companies that call Nuku’alofa intend to use their Pacific Island services to provide aid to Tonga once the situation in the islands becomes clearer.

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