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Inspiration from tragedy

Tavita Milford says he joined police after his father died tragically in the Kaipara Harbour on November 26, 2016.

The newly-graduated constable from Wing 328 proudly wore his police uniform on Thursday (August 1) as he celebrated with his wing mates and family on their graduation day at the Royal New Zealand Police College. It was a day of happiness and sadness as his late father Tau Lago Afamasaga couldn’t be with him.

“I was inspired by how the police dealt with our family and our communities during that sad time in 2016. I was so impressed with how police helped us during what was for our family, a really tragic time, I wanted to join police to help people too – especially those in my community,” he said.

Eight people died when their fishing charter boat capsized on the Kaipara Harbour and it claimed the life of Tavita’s father, with Police calling it a national maritime tragedy.

The professional fishermen who make their living taking groups out over "the bar" and into the Tasman Sea know that it is to be carefully negotiated at all times.

The entrance to the Kaipara Harbour has long been known as one of the most treacherous stretches of water in New Zealand. The 12m fishing charter vessel Francie tried to re-enter the Kaipara Harbour in 4m waves before it was reported missing.

Defence forces were involved with hydrographic specialists from the New Zealand Defence Force . NZDF Teams helped search for the boat with 11 people on board that capsized in heavy swells in Kaipara Harbour on that fateful day.

Police and rescue helicopters were involved in the search, and the Royal New Zealand Navy assisted with the search with a crew from Coastguard New Zealand.

The Navy’s side-scan sonar equipment was even used in the underwater search for the sunken boat.

Pacific Responsiveness Manager, Inspector Willi Fanene from Counties Manukau Police said: “All of the men on the boat, apart from the skipper, were of Pacific Island descent.

Four of the deceased men were Tongan, one was Samoan and one was of Cook Island descent.

"Not only was this a terrible tragedy for the New Zealand fishing community, but it was enormously sad for our wider Pacific community.

We organised Pacific Island staff with cultural and language knowledge to support the families of the deceased – we had Tongan, Samoan and Cook Island officers assigned to each family.

"I am extremely humbled to know that not only has Constable Milford joined Police from being inspired by his father’s tragedy, but also his brother -in-law Constable Sam Yerro.

"Constable Yerro came to me when he joined and told me a similar story of how he was inspired to join after the contact he had with Police following the Francie tragedy where his uncle (Tavita’s father) died. I am so proud that we could make such a good impression on these young men at such a tragic time in their lives.”

Constable Milford will be based in Waitemata along with his brother in law, Constable Yerro.


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