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NZ Defence commences mission in pukapuka

New Zealand Defence Force
Te Ope Kaatua O Aotearoa

Media Release with Photos Attached
5 June 2009

New Zealand Defence Team commences humanitarian mission in pukapuka

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Seasprite making on Motu Wale after having landed with Army personnel.

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CDR Jim Gilmour greets local children on the island of Pukapuka during the welcoming ceremony

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CDR Jim Gilmour and Maj Paul Hayward present the Mayor of Pukapuka with a framed picture of HMNZS CANTERBURY during the welcoming ceremony.

The Royal New Zealand Navy’s amphibious support ship HMNZS CANTERBURY, under the command of Commander Jim Gilmour, sailed from Apia at 11:00 am on Monday 1 June after participating in the Samoan Independence Day Parade. At 10:00 am the following morning, with the islands of Pukapuka a mere 30 nautical miles away, CANTERBURY launched one of her two embarked Seasprite helicopters for a recce of the intended landing sites and to deliver the first personnel, four Cook Island officials including the local MP and Ministry of Health personnel, ashore.

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On arrival in Pukapuka the Seasprite was enthusiastically greeted by a large number of local children, excited to see a helicopter land so close to their school. With the recce complete, the Seasprite returned to CANTERBURY with three Cook Island customs and health inspectors onboard who were required to conduct the clearances to land NZ personnel from the ship.

With clearances granted, the remaining Cook Island officials, NZ Army medical staff, Commander Amphibious Task Force (Commander Jim Gilmour, Royal NZ Navy), and Commander Land Forces, (Major Paul Hayward, NZ Army) were transported via the two embarked Seasprites to Motu Wale, the main island of Pukapuka Just after midday, a traditional welcoming ceremony was conducted by the people of Pukapuka consisting of a colourful display of dancing and singing prior to the party being treated to some traditional island food.

On completion of the ceremony, it was down to business starting with the mammoth task of transporting the embarked land force and equipment from ship to shore. The two Seasprite Helicopters embarked onboard CANTERBURY flew continuously over the next 4 ½ hours between the ship and Motu Wale landing 40 medical and engineering personnel, three water tanks, numerous pallets of cargo, a generator, medical stores and a dental chair.

The NZ Defence Force personnel onboard CANTERBURY who made up the ship’s amphibious load team worked tirelessly with the riggers ashore to ensure the correct loads made it to the flight deck and quickly cleared from the landing zone on Pukapuka.

Helicopter operations recommenced at 9.00 am Wednesday 3 June with the main effort of the day being to disembark the remaining personnel to the southern island of Motu Ko and transporting the remaining cargo to the islands of both Motu Ko and Motu Wale. On completion of the initial tasking of the day Major Paul Hayward assumed control of the land mission ashore by organising the accommodation of the medical, dental and engineering personnel, food, water and equipment and ensuring communications back to the ship were well established.

The main task for CANTERBURY for the next 10 days of the NZAID Humanitarian Mission to Pukapuka is to support the personnel ashore to enable them to complete all the assigned tasks on the island including a daily resupply of food and fresh water.


HMNZS CANTERBURY, with an extra 60 personnel onboard consisting of NZ Army, Territorial Force and civilian medical and dental personnel onboard, has arrived in Pukapuka to commence Exercise TROPIC TWILIGHT. This exercise involves the Royal New Zealand Navy, New Zealand Army and Royal New Zealand Air Force working together to deliver people and equipment in support of the NZAID led humanitarian mission During the 13 days that the Defence Force team will be on Pukapuka, the Regular and Territorial force soldiers will deliver health and engineering services to the islands residents.

HMNZS CANTERBURY is scheduled to arrive back in Apia to unload personnel on 17 June thence will make her way back home to New Zealand.

The New Zealand Defence Force is actively working with NZ Government departments including NZAid throughout the world. Currently 894 New Zealand Defence Force personnel are deployed on 14 operations, UN missions and defence exercises in 10 countries around the globe.

Facts about Pukapuka
Population 530 and is 5.1 sq km and is one of the most remote and isolated of all the Cook Islands. Pukapuka lies 1150 km north of Rarotonga and was discovered 2000 years ago by Samoan and Tongan voyagers on their way to the Society Islands It was not until 700 years ago that Pukapuka was permanently settled.

Pukapuka’s isolation was ameliorated in 1994 when an airstrip was built on Moto Ko and telephones introduced to the island in 1994.

Pukapuka sustained severe damage during the cyclones that tore through the islands in 2005 and only 10 houses survived the storms without major damage. Taro crops were washed away and the many of the islands water sources were contaminated prompting a huge rescue package to be implemented by the Cook Island Government and aid agencies from New Zealand and other countries. The island is only just beginning to get back on its feet but it could take another two years before the taro plantations and water sources have fully recovered.

Daily life today in Pukapuka is dominated by fishing, farming and harvesting of local crops such as coconuts, bananas and papayas. Most of the produce is consumed on the island with the remainder being exported back to Rarotonga.

Notes on HMNZS CANTERBURY - Pennant Number L421

Amphibious Sea Support Vessel

The Multi-Role Vessel CANTERBURY was the first of seven new ships built for the Royal New Zealand Navy under Project Protector. HMNZS Canterbury was commissioned on 12 June, 2007.

HMNZS Canterbury plays an integral role providing amphibious support to military operations, humanitarian assistance, non-combatant evacuation, as well as general naval training and support to other government agencies.


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