Australian Amphib Suffers Loss of Power on Tonga Relief Mission

Australian Defence Force troops board HMAS Adelaide for a mission to Tonga, January 2022 (Australian Defence Force)

Published Feb 1, 2022 5:22 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Australian amphib HMAS Adelaide has reportedly suffered a blackout while deployed on a relief mission to the island nation of Tonga, which was hit by ashfall and tsunami damage after a volcanic eruption January 15. 

Adelaide has already delivered her cargo of emergency relief supplies to the pier at the capital city of Nuku'alofa, and she was anchored in the island's lagoon. 

In a statement, Australia's defense ministry said that back-up power has been turned on and essential systems are still running. It denied media reports that the vessel's refrigeration and sewage systems had gone offline with the power outage. 

"Food supplies have not been adversely affected as a result of the power outage . . . [and] air conditioning is operational in most areas of the ship," the ministry said. "The situation is being closely monitored and the safety of the ship and the embarked personnel remains our highest priority." 

Australian news outlet ABC reports that in the South Pacific heat, Adelaide's engine room personnel are working in temperatures of about 120 degrees as they attempt to make repairs. A defense spokesperson acknowledged that the weather is hot in Tonga, adding that "HMAS Adelaide's command team proactively manage heat and fatigue levels [among the] ship's company."

A civilian maintenance team will be flown out to Tonga to diagnose the problem and make repairs, and a cargo plane has delivered spare parts. 

The ship is also dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak on board. Shortly before Adelaide's arrival in Tonga, Australian defense officials reported that there were 23 cases on board the ship. The crew made a no-contact cargo delivery to eliminate any chance of introducing the disease to Tonga, one of the world's few COVID-free nations. 

According to ABC, the number of COVID cases aboard Adelaide has since risen to about 70. Onboard testing and quarantine protocols are in effect.

The U.S. Navy, the Royal Navy and the Royal New Zealand Navy have also provided relief and assistance to Tonga. Vessels of the French Navy, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and the U.S. Coast Guard are en route, and U.S. container shipping company Matson has added extra sailings to Tonga to deliver more supplies. The People's Liberation Army Navy is also planning to provide assistance: the amphib Wuzhishan and the auxiliary Chaganhu are now under way from southern China, according to USNI.