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Tonga - Disaster Strikes Again

Updated: Jan 24, 2022

It is many years since I last visited the Island Kingdom of Tonga, but my memories are still very vivid mainly because of the kindness and gentleness of the Tongan People. On my first trip to sea, I set sail from Southampton heading for Australia and the exotic islands for the South Pacific. Until now only dreamed about after seeing the musical South Pacific. Of course, nothing like the film, arriving in Tonga was so much more.


Last week I was so saddened to hear of the tragedy that Tonga was suffering after a volcano erupted. This triggered a tsunami that spread across the Pacific in a matter of hours.


The volcano erupted some 40 miles north of the capital Nukuʻalofa. Where many of you will have visited during your seadog days. It was here that I first experienced the welcome of the Tongan people.

The volcano has left the island covered in thick ash.

Thousands of Tongan families remain cut off from the world, during the eruption the only communication cable to the islands was severed. The cable repair ship could be at danger from future eruptions and could take over two weeks to reconnect the cable. Some telephone networks within the country had been restored and Australia and New Zealand were assisting with satellite calls, communications remained limited, particularly with outer islands.


"After the eruption, all of Tonga just turned grey," Tongan journalist Marian Kupu told the BBC from the capital Nuku'alofa. "We're talking about dogs and cars and buildings; they were all covered in ashes."


Rescue teams and hundreds of volunteers have been working relentlessly to clear that runway of thick ash at the main airport in Nuku'alofa that had prevented planes from landing. However, the runway has now been cleared and planes from Australia and New Zealand have landed and dropped off emergency supplies of water, emergency housing, electricity generators, hygiene, and communication equipment.


The emergency planes are landing the supplies but staying on the ground for a minimum length of time, during which they have no contact with local people. Performing their work in dropping off the supplies they will wear full personal protection equipment to protect the Tongan people from the Covid virus. Only one case of covid has been reported on Tonga during the whole of the pandemic.


A New Zealand Naval ship was due to arrive carrying 250,000 litres of fresh water and desalination equipment, used to separate salt from water. The islanders are praying for heavy rain to wash away the grey ash that is covering everything and provide much-needed freshwater that is running out fast.



Visiting the main island Tongatapu in 1974 I have many happy memories especially of running shore excursions and taking a lorry out to a local village to give ice cream to the children.


I also have special memories of visiting the outer islands of Vava’u.

Vava’u was a delight. Oriana was one of the first cruise ships to call there. It was absolutely lovely to be welcomed with open arms by these gentle friendly Tongan people.


News of Oriana’s arrival had spread, and the village green had been laid out with all the basket and shell wear that the islanders had been making for our arrival. There was even the Vava’u tea shop (see video).












When the Oriana departed the islanders stood on the dockside throwing shells to the departing passengers. That first day in Vava’u was a day that I shall never forget.





Neiafu Catholic Church - Vava'u


Being a member of the British Commonwealth, the people of Britain and the royal family have a soft spot for Tonga. In 1953 at the Queen’s coronation, Queen Sālote was riding in the coronation procession when it began to rain, and hoods were placed on the carriages in the procession. As Tongan custom dictates that one should not imitate the actions of persons one is honouring, she refused a hood and rode through the pouring rain in an open carriage. The British public loved Queen Sālote.



The time around Pita Taufatofua, the athlete who gained fame for representing Tonga as an Olympic flag bearer has raised thousands of dollars to help the island country overcome the impact of the devastating volcanic eruption.

Taufatofua set up a GoFundMe page on Monday just hours after the disastrous undersea volcanic eruption, and has raised more than A$550,000 (£300,000).



Being a member of the British Commonwealth, the people of Britain and the royal family have a soft spot for Tonga. In 1953 at the Queen’s coronation, Queen Sālote was riding in the coronation procession when it began to rain, and hoods were placed on the carriages in the procession. As Tongan custom dictates that one should not imitate the actions of persons one is honouring, she refused a hood and rode through the pouring rain in an open carriage. The British public fell in love with Queen Sālote.


During our cruise season in 1974 Prince Charles had taken up his position in the Royal Navy on HMS Juniper and after visiting Suva we met up with HMS Juniper a few days later in Nuku’alofa, she was docked near Oriana, but we did not get a sighting of Prince Charles.



King Tāufaʻāhau Tupou IV succeeded the throne in 1965 after the death of his mother, Queen Sālote. Here, the King greets Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip upon their arrival in Tonga in 1977.


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