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Serving with dignity and respect

Monday 6 February 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Features


Serving with dignity and respect
Former Cook Islands Police Maritime Surveillance Advisor, Lieutenant Commander Mark Te Kani MNZM on board Te Kukupa II. The new maritime headquarters is n the background at right. 23020332

After three years on watch as the Police Maritime Surveillance Advisor, Lieutenant Commander Mark Te Kani MNZM, departed Rarotonga last month with his wife Deb and grandson. He has been described as a ‘true gentlemen’ one with mana, who carried himself with quiet dignity and respect for maritime and the crew.

Te Kani’s legacy is reflected in the successful projects, capacity training, and asset strengthening within the Maritime Division and Police Service as a whole.

He managed the Pacific Maritime Security Programme (PMSP) on behalf of Australia, this programme delivered Te Kukupa and Te Kukupa II to the Cook Islands.

The responsibility of this role is to continue the guidance and management of the running of the nation’s patrol boat and Te Kani played an instrumental role in the modernisation of Maritime Police, helping to oversee the transition from the return of Te Kukupa, to the historical arrival of Te Kukupa II in 2022.

In 1989, the first Te Kukupa was delivered to the Cook Islands and along with the gifting of the vessel, three positions were also provided to support the ship – the Police Maritime Surveillance Advisor, Technical Advisor and Electronics Advisor. They were all Australian Navy personnel posted to Rarotonga.

Also, part of that package was the Australian government commitment to providing an annual fuel subsidy to operate the vessel as well as that all personnel joining Cook Islands maritime were flown to Australia to undergo training.

Te Kukupa I was a class called the Pacific Patrol Boat – a small vessel which could sail with 13 people. It served its purpose for 32 years.

The PMSP commenced a replacement programme to replace the old Pacific Patrol Boats with the new Guardian Class Patrol Boat, Te Kukupa II at Avatiu harbour.

Te Kukupa II arrived to Rarotonga on July 20, 2022. It is 39.5 metres long, has a steel monohulled design and is capable of travelling 3000 nautical miles (5,600 km; 3,500 mi) at 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph), with a maximum speed of 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph).

Te Kani explains the difference between the two boats. The Guardian class is 15 metres longer and has more electronic capability than its predecessor, has more capability in the operations of the boat, has sewage plant, a desalination plant where it makes its own water, and certainly has top of the line caterpillar engines to drive the vessel.

“The crew are well looked after on the boat, but then they do really have to work hard to ensure that the equipment runs really well,” says Te Kani.

“This boat (Te Kukupa II) is certainly far different in that the minimum crew you operate the boat is 19, but it also has 23 beds on the boat so it can take passengers or extra personnel in the event they need to.”

The accommodation is also far superior and has a cabin that sleeps four and the captain has his own room, he adds.

When Te Kukupa I was still in operation, with the delivery of the new Guardian Kukupa II in the pipeline, Australia had mandated to have a minimum of 19 crew.

“So obviously before the delivery we had to increase the numbers within Maritime,” says Te Kani.

Te Kani conducted a review of what Maritime comprised of then, and what was needed going forward, and in the end the staffing levels of Maritime Division overall was increased from 13 to 25. Nineteen personnel to serve on the boat and six on shore.

 “One of the reviews looking at the new Guardian class boat was the capability that it has, and coming with a lot of logistics support and material,” explains Te Kani.

Going forward, he says the (previous) Maritime Headquarters at Avatiu harbour wasn’t big enough to house all the spare parts and equipment needed and also to house the crew, “so a bigger building was needed”.

And there was no room to extend the old headquarters sideways, the only way was to build up. This resulted in the construction of a new two-storey which is underway.

Te Kani wrote the business plan and approval was received from several agencies.

“It was important who was going to fund it,” he says.

Australia agreed for the new building to go ahead and to do so allocated “quite a substantial amount” for the building.

“One of the aspects was, we had to use a local company and local contractors and the whole build had to be locally supported,” says Te Kani.

Cook Islands architect Romani Katoa won the contract, he then engaged Keta Williams Construction Company to build the new Maritime Headquarters.

Work on the new extension build started in March last year. The delivery date and completion of the new headquarters is expected on March 6 and official opening on the March 14.

“The build is going well, I’m going to be very pleased when it’s completed; another project that has come to fruition,” says Te Kani.

In another project, seven recruits will be going to Australia for the senior ship level one training this month, and another four who are new are scheduled to head to Australia in October for their training next year.

“The wonderful thing is that it (Te Kukupa II) is fully manned by all Cook Islanders,” says Te Kani.

In October last year Te Kukupa II hit the high seas conducting regional co-operation exercises which was sponsored by the Fishing Forum Authority (FFA).

Te Kukupa II also provided support to Te Marae Ora to vaccinate people on Nassau and late last year provided support to the National Environment Services (NES) for the Rat Eradication Programme.

Te Kani says in pre-Covid times the patrol boat would normally do three operations a year funded by the FFA.

During Covid, evidently there was a lull and now Maritime Division is gearing up to continue operations again in the Cook Islands’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

All the local surveillance and monitoring trips are funded by the Cook Islands government, says Te Kani, however different funding streams or agencies may want to commission Kukupa II which can be chartered.

Throughout Te Kani’s time on Rarotonga, there have been numerous highlights.

Since undertaking the review of Maritime’s brand new $30 million Te Kukupa II boat and the restructure of the organisation from 13 to 25 people, Te Kani has also implemented new uniforms. The uniforms now worn by the crew are similar to navy uniforms “so they stand out in ceremonies”.

The maritime surveillance system within the headquarters has been upgraded which allows the monitor streams to track all vessels transiting through the Cook Islands EEZ, says Te Kani.

“We use this system we have, it also allows us to work with other government agencies and other countries so the capability of Maritime – once the building is open and the all the equipment is reinstalled and up and operating – is going to be a significant contribution by the Cook Islands in surveillance in the Pacific.”

At present the Maritime headquarters is based on Te Kukupa II and the crew members are based there working from the boat. The command team is occupying a floor in the Police Headquarters temporarily.

“We’ve had to establish duty watchers, there are several people on board throughout the night and their roles is to monitor the systems and the alarms,” says Te Kani.

“The boat is very demanding, and the crew really love their boat.”

Before taking up the post, Te Kani’s predecessor passed on the calendar which was booked up to travel around the Pacific for appointments and exercises.

“The calendar was quite full when I arrived before Covid on January 23, 2020, then on the third of March the whole world shut down.

“And everything was cancelled for 18 months.”

During that period Te Kani conducted the review of Maritime since he had the time to do it. “That allowed me to look at everything and now when you look at Maritime and the capability that we have, it was because of Covid.

“So Covid had a bright side, if it wasn’t for Covid I would have been travelling and none of this would have been done. Out of Covid I was able to provide the capability the Cook Islands deserved and they needed, that’s my greatest satisfaction.”

Posted to a small island like Rarotonga, Te Kani and his family adjusted to island lifestyle quite well.

Being Maori, Te Kani says fitting in was easy – to associate with the agencies and the wider community.

He helped coach the Arorangi Bears premier and Under 19 league teams with Kevin Iro and really got involved in the community.

“It was our pleasure, my wife (Deb) played netball for Avatiu and Titikaveka, and so did our daughter, we played touch and the biggest thing for us is that we were able to play for Mauke in the Cook Islands Games.

“Our life here had been fulfilling in more levels than one, not just work… our daughter was here and our moko.”

Before departing our shores, Te Kani says: “I’m so grateful for the people I have met here, they are so welcoming and we really enjoyed our life here. We’re going to be truly blessed having these memories when we go home and will always reflect on out time here.”

He also paid tribute to the Maritime crew he worked with during his stint here.

“Keep true to yourself and be true to what you do and always hold your head up high and ensure that you maintain the mana of the Maritime Division when you go out to sea, that you represent Tangaroa.”

The Commander of Maritime, Tepaki Baxter and the Division honoured Te Kani with a parade send off last month. Te Kani also handed over his responsibilities to the incoming advisor, LTCDR David Longhurst.

The New Zealand High Commission to the Cook Islands also acknowledged his services to the Cook Islands Maritime Surveillance Unit, supported by both Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia, for his “outstanding support”.

“Kia hora te marino, kia whakapapa pounamu te moana, kia tere te kārohirohi i mua i tōu huarahi. May the calm be widespread, may the ocean glisten as greenstone, may the shimmer of light ever dance across your pathway,” the High Commission said.

Te Kani is now based at the Naval headquarters in Wellington and the Cook Islands have not seen the last of him and his family who plan to return for holidays.