Ben was pleased and happy to attend the event at Avatiu wharf with his wife Uini and son Edward.
Although he is now blind, “my mind, my head and my ears are clear, I’m glad to be here, I’m meitaki, all good.”
Prime Minister Henry Puna was thoroughly impressed with the condition of Te Kukupa, looking squeaky clean from the efforts of the crew and the police force.
“We have looked after this boat, the best of all the maritime boats that have been gifted to the Pacific. It’s a real tribute to the commanders and the crew over the past thirty years,” Puna said at the event.
“We are the custodians of the ocean and among the most valued tools we have to sustain our lifeline is the vessel we are here to celebrate and honour today – Te Kukupa.”
She was built in Western Australia, one of 16 vessels for the surveillance and monitoring of our exclusive economic zone. Former Police minister Norman George commenced and completed the negotiations of the vessel with the Australian government, Puna said.
However, when the vessel was on its way here it was diverted to Sydney.
After more negotiations with the new Cook Islands Party, the government of the day at that time, the patrol boat made its way to Rarotonga.
In August 1989, Te Kukupa was officially handed over in Sydney, received by the former Prime Minister the late Sir Geoffrey Henry and former Police Commissioner the late Tepure Tapaitau.
“Several contributors to the patrol boat are no longer with us and we extend our deepest appreciation to their families as we continue to honour and remember them,” said Puna.
“A ship is not a ship without its captain and its crew, today we honour them.”
He confidently said Te Kukupa is the best kept and operated of all the patrol boats, and our crew the best trained and disciplined in the region.
The prime minister also suggested to maintain the name, Te Kukupa, for the new vessel due to be delivered in two years, and name her, “Te Kukupa II”.
Norman George said during the initial discussion period, he had received a lot of negative responses.
At the event he felt fulfilled. “I’m humbled with a great sense of satisfaction… this is very moving, well done old girl.”
Police Commissioner Maara Tetava acknowledged the presence of George, the original crew of Captain Paranapa Ben, Commander Garth Henderson, John Hosking, and those who flew in from overseas – Tereora Tapaitau, Ngametua Kae and Masterton Enjoy.
John Teaurima is the only original Te Kukupa crew member who is still with the patrol boat. Back in those days it was tough, he says. Over the years he has gained valuable skills and experiences that he now shares with the crew.
Commander of the Maritime Service Tepaki Baxter, Senior Sergeant Tuariki Henry, the current commander of Te Kukupa and Senior Sergeant Teaurima were also acknowledged for their services.
New Zealand High Commissioner Tessa Temata presented awards in recognition of staff who were deployed to the Solomon Islands International Peace Monitoring Team (IPMT). The recipients were Inspector Tepaki Baxter, Detective Senior Sergeant Leighton Boaza, former Inspector John Hosking, former Sergeant Mona Ioane, the late Rimamotu Manavaikai and former Senior Sergeant Maarametua Brown.
Awards from the Royal Solomon Islands Police International Enforcement Operation were presented by Police minister Vaine “Mac” Mokoroa to former Sergeant Masterton Enjoy and to Senior Sergeant Maarametua Brown, for services rendered during the RAMSI period.