Around 40 New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) engineers, carpenters, plumbers and electricians from the Army’s 2 Engineer Regiment are based on both Penrhyn and Manihiki for Tropic Twilight, a regular humanitarian exercise in the South Pacific. They are working with military engineers from China, the US and the UK to upgrade the Penrhyn fuel depot and cyclone-proof schools and clinics on both islands.
FANC (Forces armees de Nouvelle-Caledonie) and the Australian Defence Force are also supporting the exercise.
Island government executive Vaine Wichman told CI News that Tongareva (Penrhyn) Island officially welcomed the New Zealand Defence Force, global consulting firm GHD, Petroleum Solutions, Cook Islands Towage and the Cook Islands’ Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) last Friday. In his address to the gathering, deputy mayor Fana Ivirangi welcomed the various teams on behalf of the mayor, leaders of the churches, community leaders, councillors and the Member of Parliament and the people of Penrhyn. In response the New Zealand Defence Force acknowledged their appreciation with a waiata (song) which Wichman said was sung with ‘gusto’ by the troops.
“This is probably one of just a few times the island will host these teams on behalf of the Cook Islands Government.
“They are conducting this work not just for the island but for the nation, as surveillance and the visits of the Kukupa can become more regular and longer in the north, when the new fuel depot is completed,” Wichman said.
The NZDF troops in particular have their work cut out for them – the key project for this year’s exercise is the relocation and rebuilding of the Penrhyn fuel depot. The aim is to improve fuel storage and enable better use of the patrol boat Te Kukupa to carry out fisheries surveillance activities and protect the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the northern Cooks. In a short NZDF film posted to YouTube about the exercise, New Zealand Army construction troop commander Lieutenant Jacob Corlett said the isolation of Penrhyn created a massive logistical challenge.
He said the fuel depot upgrade was crucial in the fight to stop poaching and illegal fishing in the farthest corners of the Cooks EEZ.
The exercise will end on October 12.