Royal Navy patrol ship HMS Tamar makes friends in Tonga

Topic: Fighting armsSurface Fleet Storyline: HMS Tamar

Royal Navy patrol ship HMS Tamar extended the hand of friendship to ‘the friendly islands’ when she paid her first to Tonga.

The latest leg of the Portsmouth-based warship’s Pacific patrol took her to the island chain to underscore ties between Britain and the Commonwealth kingdom.

The UK has long-standing ties with the archipelago – legendary Royal Navy explorer Captain James Cook famously labelled the chain ‘the friendly islands’ for the warm reception he received 250 years ago.

Much more recently, Tamar’s sister ship HMS Spey – also patrolling the Pacific – was on hand to deliver aid and assistance to Tonga in the wake of the January 2022 Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami.

Tamar’s Pacific odyssey – she’s been in the region for two and a half years – had not brought her to Tonga until now.

Barely had she arrived in the capital Nuku’alofa than she was hosting Tongan royalty: their Royal Highnesses The Crown Prince and Crown Princess who visited twice, the second occasion accompanied by Tonga’s Princess Royal and her husband Lord Tuita plus island dignitaries and civilian and military leaders for a demonstration of what the River-class ship and her crew can do, as well as traditional RN hospitality with a flight deck reception.

Strengthening the UK-Tonga partnership, Tamar hosted members of Tonga’s Legislative Assembly and regional Commonwealth partners and opened her gangway to Women in Uniform and school groups, furthering efforts to uplift and inspire marginalised and underrepresented groups.

Tamar’s crew – bolstered by Officer Cadets from Britannia Royal Naval College undergoing training – helped two worthy causes while in Nuku’alofa.

Teams painted shipping containers used by the Tongan Red Cross Society for disaster relief supplies to extend their lifespan and revamped a run-down building at Tonga National Visual Impairment Association, fixing the roof, fitting new doors and external cladding, and installing a completely new kitchen.

“We all really enjoyed this amazing opportunity to help these wonderful people,” said Petty Officer Callum Frogley, who led the overhaul.

“We were asked to fix the roof, but on Tamar we like to go the extra mile, so we did that, and rebuilt the kitchen and dining area to give them a family space to enjoy meals together and fixed up the outside.

“Thank you to everyone involved – without their help we could not have reached the goal we set out to achieve in just 48 hours. The Visual Impairment Association has our very best wishes and thanks for allowing us into their home and trusting in our skills.”

Feofaaki Leka, the homeowner and project manager, was fulsome in her praise of the visiting sailors.

“We are so grateful to the crew of HMS Tamar for taking the time to come here and help us. I can’t put into words how we felt the first time we saw the house and moved in 18 months ago,” she said.

“Now, after HMS Tamar, it’s a joyful place. The happiness of seeing the transformation means so much to us. It’s beautiful for the children – to sit down and enjoy mealtimes together for the first time. It’s a place we can now call home and enjoy all that you have done for us. Thank you so much from the bottom of our hearts.”

And Tamar’s command team discussed environmental and climate issues, plus disaster relief preparation and support with the island authorities and agencies.

“The bonds of friendship and partnership between the United Kingdom and the Friendly Isles stretch back to beyond our living memory. It is fitting that those bonds have been celebrated again with Their Royal Highnesses on board HMS Tamar, as well as parliamentarians, school groups and more,” said Tamar’s Executive Officer Lieutenant Commander Jim Langley.

“We’ve thoroughly enjoyed welcoming so many visitors on board, strengthening relationships and inspiring the next generation.”

British High Commissioner to Tonga, Her Excellency Lucy Joyce OBE, added: “The visit by the Royal Navy demonstrates the enduring strength of our relationship and the importance the UK places on its partnership with Tonga and the Pacific region.

“We are able to showcase HMS Tamar to many of our partners here – progressing key shared objectives on climate change, defence and inclusion while also focusing on some of the next generation of Tongans with several school groups visiting the ship.”

The visit to Tonga is sandwiched between two stints in and around Fiji for Tamar, where the patrol ship has been working with island authorities and the Royal New Zealand Navy to deal with the threat of illegal fishing.

Tamar left Tonga escorted by Guardian-class patrol boat VOEA Ngahau Siliva (‘Silver Arrow’) of the Tonga Maritime Force.

“The ambition and scope of HMS Tamar’s programme in Tonga has led to a superb range of engagements, and some memorable opportunities for the crew,” said Lieutenant Colonel Sophie Waters, the United Kingdom’s Defence Advisor to Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands.

“The finale of departing Nuku’alofa’s palm fringed shores in company with a navy vessel of His Majesty’s Armed Forces visually symbolises the significance of the defence engagements between the UK and Tonga and our desire to drive forward maritime security cooperation in the region.”