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Closer partnership within the Pacific Islands nations in the South West Pacific can help achieve mutual regional goals.

Radio & TV Tonga, Nuku’alofa ,26/07/2018

Three nations from the South West Pacific participating in the RIMPAC Exercise in Hawai’i included Australia, New Zealand and Tonga.

Australia sent 5 ships to the Exercise while New Zealand sent one. Tonga’s contingent traveled aboard the Australian HMAS Adelaide.

During a visit to the HMAS Adelaide during RIMPAC, the Commanding Officer – Captain Jonathan Earley said one of the major issues in the region is natural disasters.

“We all have a general ownership of the maritime in the South Western Pacific. All of us have got interest in it and typically some of the major threats that we find in the South Western Pacific, and I’m sure you’d agree, is usually natural disasters. So whether its volcanoes, which is what is happening in Hawai’i right now, tsunamis which we’ve seen, cyclones and hurricanes, they’re a threat. And when they hit a small island, it can be absolutely devastating,” Earley said.

Captain Earley added that the close partnership of the nations in the RIMPAC Exercise and the South West Pacific particularly, is beneficial in combating the common threats the region faces.

 

What we bring is cooperation. So if there is a natural disaster, if it’s a cyclone or a tsunami, and if Tonga requests help, for example from Australia, we can turn up on the scene and His Majesty’s Armed Forces can quickly integrate with what this capability does. So those Tongan soldiers that we had on board for the last couple of weeks, they know everything about the Adelaide and the landing helicopter dock and what it could provide and what it can do to help them, to enable them to provide support to their people,” Earley said.

Meanwhile Sea Combat Commander for one of the two Strike Groups at RIMPAC – Royal New Zealand Navy Captain Blair Gerritsen also emphasized the importance of cooperation between the Pacific Island nations.

 

“New Zealand very much sees ourselves as a Pacific Island nation and the South West Pacific is obviously our backyard. We really look to work as closely as we can with the Pacific Island nations to make sure we can support them where they need it. But also that we can work together to sort of respond to regional issues, obviously down in our part of the world, disasters unfortunately are a frequent occurrence, and we’ve seen it with recent events in Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, and even at home in New Zealand we’ve had our fair share of weather and mother nature having its way with us. So being able to work with that community with that close region for us is just fantastic. It’s great to see the Tongans there and they’ve been on this ship as well. We look to cooperate where we can be it training activities, be it exercises, be it educational, professional education opportunities. I think the New Zealand Defence Force gets as much out of it as the Pacific Island nations that we work with as well. So it’s really that strength of all the nations working together and understanding,” Gerritsen said.

The Tongan contingent traveling aboard the HMAS Adelaide were not the only Pacific Islanders on board the ship, a member of the Republic of Fiji Navy is currently training on the HMAS Adelaide. Julian Vatubuli has been on the ship for the past 4 months and believes the Pacific Islands navies need to be strengthened to effectively carry out their duties.

 “Especially coming from a small island from Fiji, so similar to the Tongan Navy, we are small in number and also small in capability but the maritime resources we have is much larger so Australia has given the opportunity for me to come and study the with HMAS Adelaide to know their capability, especially when the when the GATLIN GLASS will be coming to the Pacific which will be donated by Australia to Tonga, Papua New Guinea, and Fiji. So the program which was handed to me was to learn the navigational equipment for the ships so that when the ships are coming to our countries, we are able to use the navigational system which are on the patrol boats to do our jobs in the small outer islands. It’s a big bonus for me, especially, we have the navigating on big ships like the HMAS Adelaide and it’s a big bonus participating in RIMPAC when there’s a lot of ships in company with the Australian Navy ships and it enhanced our capability as a navigator in the near future,” Vatubuli said.

Vatubuli also expressed his appreciation of the Australian and other foreign navies contributions to the Pacific Island Navies saying that it is a great boost for the region.

“The cooperation between Australia and the Pacific has been really good especially Australia giving aid to small islands like Fiji, Tonga, and Papua New Guinea. The last we gave which was the disaster relief in Fiji which was really helpful so this has more enhanced the relation and ties, international relations between Australia and the Pacific. The way I see it, Australia and other bigger countries have donated more ships to the small islands like Tonga, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea. And the way I see it, the more ships we have in the small outer islands like Tonga and Fiji, we’ll be able to do our work properly,” Vatubuli said.

Major Tau ‘Aholelei – the Tongan Contingent Commander – says the Tongan platoon are back on board the HMAS Adelaide for the final phase of the exercise which is set to conclude on the 28th of July.

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