Captain Andrew Blackburn, Senior National Officer for the New Zealand contingent, said several schools and hospitals that were repaired by a multinational team comprising military engineers and skilled tradesmen from China, the US, the UK and New Zealand were also turned over at an official ceremony in the northern Cook Islands atoll of Penrhyn.
“The past six weeks have been an invaluable opportunity to work alongside and learn from our international peers,” Captain Blackburn said.
“Tropic Twilight also offered an opportunity to practise the NZDF’s capability to deploy alongside other militaries to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR),” he added.
Major General Tim Gall, Commander Joint Forces New Zealand, said the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) participation in Tropic Twilight for the first time resulted from a decision by China and New Zealand “to deepen and widen professional cooperation, especially in the area of HADR”.
“It was agreed that participation by PLA engineers in Tropic Twilight would be a logical next step in developing the relationship,” Major General Gall said.
Tropic Twilight is a recurring activity conducted this year in the northern Cook Islands atoll of Penrhyn and Manihiki from August 31-1October 12. It is held in partnership with the government of the Cook Islands and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which funded the new fuel depot and the other infrastructure improvements being delivered as part of the exercise. The FAPF (Forces armees en Polynesie francaise) are also supporting the humanitarian activity.
Relocating and upgrading the Penrhyn fuel depot had helped avert a potential oil spill, said Nick Hurley, New Zealand’s High Commissioner to the Cook Islands.
“The new fuel depot will refuel the Australian-funded Cook Islands Pacific Patrol Boat Te Kukupa, which conducts long-range maritime patrols against illegal fishing in the northern Cooks.
Deputy Prime Minister Teariki Heather said there had been safety and environmental concerns regarding the old fuel depot in Penrhyn,
“As a result of conducting the exercise and the relocation of the fuel depot further inland, those concerns have now been addressed particularly in respect of the lagoon and its environment.”
Around 40 engineers, plumbers, carpenters and electricians from the NZDF’s 2nd Engineer Regiment worked alongside 20 military engineers from the PLA, the Royal Regiment and the US Army Pacific to build the new fuel depot.
Schools and hospitals were refurbished to address potential electrical hazards and ensure they can better withstand the cyclones that regularly rip through the Pacific islands.
The handover ceremony was attended by Cook Islands officials led by Heather, Brigadier General Stephen Curda of the US Army’s 9th Mission Support Command and Brigadier Antony Hayward from the NZDF.