2012 June: ENDEAVOUR and Navy refuel remote atolls
By MIDSHIPMAN TAYLOR CLARK
In response to a request for assistance from the Cook Islands Government, HMNZS ENDEAVOUR, en route to Exercise RIMPAC in Hawaii, was tasked to provide vital fuel supplies to several of the northern Cook Islands.
The tasking—aptly named Operation Bunker—involved supplying the communities of the islands with diesel fuel, vital for their power generators, vehicles and machinery.
Late afternoon Monday 11 June, ENDEAVOUR positioned herself one mile north of Nassau Island, a small atoll home to 100 people, including 33. With the waters too deep to anchor, ENDEAVOUR closed to within one mile of the Island, shut down her engine and drifted while waiting to receive the local boats alongside. Two boats eventually arrived each with 2000-litre fuel tanks embarked. They were filled with 3800 litres of diesel and the crews departed, happy they could keep their generators running for another three months. A boat carrying a small group of local boys, young men and island officials also came out to visit. They were treated to a tour of the ship and enjoyed ice blocks and sweets before departing.
Having provided the required fuel to Nassau and having made some new friends on the way, ENDEAVOUR departed at sunset for Pukapuka Island, the “island of beautiful girls”, arriving in the vicinity early morning Tuesday 12 June. ENDEAVOUR again positioned herself about a mile off the island with the engine shut down to drift while awaiting the island fuel barge. Unfortunately the island lacked sufficient petrol to make the transit out to the ship under their own power so once they were clear of the inner lagoon the ship’s sea boat took the barge in tow and delivered it alongside ENDEAVOUR.
Once again ENDEAVOUR paid host to visitors from the Island including the Island Minister, Island secretary and elders. On this occasion 6400 litres was provided which will sustain the Pukapuka for several months. On completion ENDEAVOUR said farewell to several more new friends and set sail for Penrhyn Island a two-day steam away.
ENDEAVOUR arrived off Penrhyn Island at first light Thursday 14 June and moved to within approximately two miles of the atoll reef to assess conditions in the lee of the atoll.
On arrival ENDEAVOUR’s Navigating Officer LT Radoslaw Wasak, RCN, accompanied by SLT Wesley Moir, set off in the ship’s sea boat to survey the charted anchorage at the north-west tip of the atoll. This survey showed that it would be a suitable anchorage for ENDEAVOUR, however on this occasion the sea conditions at the anchorage and its distance from the lagoon entrance made it unsuitable for the task at hand.
A small flotilla of local craft, some carrying 1500-litre bulk fuel tanks and others with empty 240-litre drums assembled at the lagoon entrance waiting for ENDEAVOUR to close the atoll. ENDEAVOUR moved slowly towards the reef to within approximately one mile of danger. However, not being the most manoeuvrable ship in the RNZN fleet nor designed to loiter, with the main engine idling, ENDEAVOUR remained at a prudent distance off the atoll and, with a stiff offshore breeze prevailing, shut down the main engine to drift as the depth of water was, once again, too deep to permit anchoring. Once settled off the lagoon entrance the local craft swarmed around the ship to commence the transfer of diesel fuel. ENDEAVOUR’s sea boat, with a 1000-litre bulk fuel container embarked, was also launch to join the transfer effort.
Unfortunately some of the local boats were not considered stable enough to carry the 1500-litre tanks, when full, so were returned to the island to offload and return with 240-litre drums.
The Mayor of Penrhyn boarded ENDEAVOUR to welcome the ship and discuss the plan for the transfer of fuel. As the Mayor is also the harbour pilot he guided ENDEAVOUR’s sea boat into and through the lagoon on the first occasion. Temporary navigational buoys, manufactured onboard, were placed to mark the route to ensure safe navigation for future runs into the wharf.
By mid forenoon the routine for the transfer was settling down. ENDEAVOUR’s sea boat plus the two local craft, with bulk tanks onboard, were fuelled to the ship’s port side while two starboard empty drums were returned and full ones craned into the waiting boats.
Amidships, on the tank deck, the empty drums were filled by under the watchful eye and direction of the ship’s Engineer Officer, LT CDR Dave Hunter. This routine continued, unabated until sunset. By the time the operations were closed on the first day, approximately 28,000 litres of diesel had been moved from ENDEAVOUR to the island’s storage tanks.
Unfortunately the rate of effort sustained by the local boats on the first day meant that they did not have sufficient petrol stocks remaining to assist on the second day. However help was not far away.
HMNZS TE KAHA joined ENDEAVOUR off Penrhyn Island at first light Friday 15 June. Having drifted overnight ENDEAVOUR moved closer to the island to recommence the transfer operation at 0800. TE KAHA provided both her sea boats and embarked SH2G Seasprite helicopter to the operation, to help fill the gap left by the withdrawal of the local boats. Although reduced to three boats the speed at which the sea boat could travel more than made up for the lack of numbers. The addition of the Seasprite now required ENDEAVOUR to man an additional transfer point on the flight deck, in addition to the three or four stations on the tank deck. This meant that the majority of the Ship’s Company were involved in the operation, on deck, for the duration of the day.
Throughout the day working teams rotated in order to get a few people ashore for a quick look around the small island village and facilities it maintained. Some were lucky enough to receive coconuts or small shells as gifts from the locals.
With ENDEAVOUR and TE KAHA working in unison the fuelling was proceeding well when yet more assistance arrived in the shape of HMAS DARWIN, also en route to RIMPAC. Her two sea boats and S-70B-2 Seahawk helicopter were introduced seamlessly into Operation Bunker and proved valuable assets in the final push to get the required amount of fuel ashore. As the day drew to a close, the target of 60,000 litres of diesel fuel transferred from ENDEAVOUR to the Penrhyn Island storage tanks was achieved. All the sea boats returned to their parent ships and the helicopters were stood down.
ENDEAVOUR’s Ship’s Company squared away the tank deck and secured from flying stations before taking a moment to draw a breath and reflect on a job well done.
With sunset approaching, ENDEAVOUR, in company with the two frigates, shaped a northerly course for Hawaii.
Picture: LT Hamish McGee, LSTD Kayla Murray and ACH Holly Hermansen enjoy fresh coconuts on their brief run ashore to Penrhyn Island.