With contributions from Petty Officer 3rd Class Angela Henderson, 14th Coast Guard District public affairs specialist.
As the island nation of Tokelau, a territory of New Zealand, entered severe drought levels, the approximately 1,500 residents looked beyond its shores for assistance. Isolated from their nearest neighbor by roughly 300 miles of ocean with the dire outlook of only seven days left of available drinking water, the U.S. Coast Guard answered the call for help.
The mission to support Tokelau started when the U. S. Embassy in Wellington, New Zealand, contacted Joint Rescue Coordination Center Honolulu to discuss the operation of transporting a New Zealand assessment team and fresh drinking water to Tokelau.
“Like New Zealand, the United States is committed to helping our Pacific neighbors when they are in need,” said U.S. Ambassador David Huebner. “This is a very real humanitarian need here. We are talking about approximately 1,500 people who could be out of fresh water within a week.”
A Coast Guard buoy tender from Honolulu, Coast Guard Cutter Walnut, happened to be on routine patrol in the Pacific servicing aids to navigation when they received the call for the humanitarian mission.
With no useable airfield on the islands an air mission was impossible, making the Walnut the perfect means to deliver and fill Tokelau’s available water tanks with drinkable water.
“The Coast Guard routinely supports the Pacific island countries in this region during search and rescue cases and fisheries patrols,” said Rear Adm. Charles W. Ray, commander of the 14th Coast Guard District. “Our existing relationships between Pacific island countries are essential to facilitate rapid response during times of need.”
Over the weekend the crew of the Walnut departed after a successful distribution of more than 32,000 gallons of fresh water between each of the three island atolls that make up the nation of Tokelau.
This swift response to a unique mission is nothing new to the crew of Walnut. In the past decade, their missions have taken them around the globe, including: deploying to support Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, assisting the U.S. Army and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in recovering more than 62,000 pounds of marine debris from the Pacific and recovering more than 270,000 gallons of oily water from the Gulf of Mexico in support of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. All of this in addition to their primary missions.
“We are a military service whose mission is multi-operational; not only do we service aids to navigation, perform search and rescue and law enforcement, we also have the capability to respond to humanitarian missions,” said Lt. Cmdr. Brian Huff, commanding officer of Walnut. “We are fortunate to be in the position to work with foreign and local governments and help the people in Tokelau.”