Deputy Prime Minister Teariki Heather, New Zealand High Commissioner to the Cook Islands Nick Hurley and other international military representatives travelled to the isolated atoll of Penrhyn abroad a French military aircraft to attend the official opening of Penrhyn Fuel Depot on Wednesday morning.
The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has a led another successful Exercise Tropic Twilight, an annual humanitarian assistance project in the South Pacific.
And over the past six weeks military representatives from the NZDF, the United Kingdom, the United States and the People’s Liberation Army of China have worked tirelessly in tropical heat to rebuild the island’s crucial fuel depot.
The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s director of Pacific Development, David Nicholson, said after an assessment across the Pacific, the Penrhyn project was chosen to support the Cook Islands Police fisheries surveillance vessel Te Kukupa in the extreme northern area of the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The old fuel facilities were over 25 years old and at the end of their commercial and environmental viability, he said.
Te Kukupa Commanding Officer Tepaki Baxter, who attended the opening with his 15-man crew, believed the old fuel facilities, located in Omoka were a disaster waiting to happen.
“The sea wall is eroding and as soon as a cyclone or a storm hit the fuel tanks would be gone,” he said.
The new facilities mean the crew can make two surveillance voyages in the northern EEZ before needing to refuel, he said.
Te Kukupa had not found any illegal fishing activities in the EEZ in about 10 years, however Baxter said monitoring was critical to protecting the country’s fishing industry.
New Zealand Technical Advisor for Te Kukupa, Chief Petty Officer Tony Francis, said the fuel tanks each held 40,000 litres and were double-walled to minimise the risk of accidental spillage.
The connections between the tanks and the dockside fuel shed were made of doubled-walled high-density polyethylene plastic that wouldn’t rust, he said.
Francis, who has been an integral part of the project, said it was “fantastic” to see the depot finished and pumping petrol after two years of planning.
New Zealand has invested $950,000 into the Tropic Twilight project. The sum includes the cost of shipping and the light engineering materials used to refurbish many of the public buildings such as schools and clinics in Penrhyn and Manihiki, as well as project management costs.
Lieutenant Jacob Corlett, Engineer Troop Commander for the operation in Penrhyn said his experience on the island had been “unforgettable.”
“The local population has been incredibly welcoming.
“While we’re here to do a job, we’ve also felt a real part of the culture and environment here. They’ve given us a real experience and hopefully we’ve left a legacy behind as well.”
The official delegation returned to Rarotonga yesterday, and the NZDF personnel and their counterparts will leave Penrhyn soon.