It was a moment not seen before at the Port of Tauranga - local Māori, dignitaries plus passengers and crew from a visiting cruise ship collectively praying for calm and healing.

The booming horn of the Ovation of the Seas signalled at 3.59pm yesterday marking the beginning of a moment's silence honouring those ship passengers and crew killed, hurt or still missing from Whakaari White Island's Monday eruption. For that long and poignant minute, only seagulls could be heard despite the hundreds of people gathered.

Ngai Te Rangi's Josh Te Kani talks to hundreds of cruise ship passengers about the karakia tau te mauri. Photo / George Novak
Ngai Te Rangi's Josh Te Kani talks to hundreds of cruise ship passengers about the karakia tau te mauri. Photo / George Novak

At 4pm, Ngai Te Rangi representatives began a karakia tau te mauri, a Māori blessing to settle the spirit before passengers leave.

Flanked on one side by dignitaries and Māori elders, with senior chip crew on the other, iwi representative Josh Te Kani told the crowd of passengers that iwi wanted to pay special respects to those on board and those unable to leave.

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"We are here to remember all that have fallen in this tragedy," he told the crowd.

Some of the crowds of cruise ship visitors at the karakia. Photo / George Novak
Some of the crowds of cruise ship visitors at the karakia. Photo / George Novak

Passengers crowded around the port's entrance area and lined the massive ship's 18 above-sea storeys as they were honoured. Some wept quietly into tissues, others wore deep concern on their faces while others scuttled past fellow travellers trying not to intrude.

Iwi performed a prayer and a soulful, sombre waiata.

"With Māoridom, it's customary to acknowledge everyone and everything, and that is what today is about," Te Kani said.

A passenger from Ovation of the Seas takes a moment during a karakia to reflect. Photo / George Novak
A passenger from Ovation of the Seas takes a moment during a karakia to reflect. Photo / George Novak

"It acknowledges you as esteemed visitors and it acknowledges the tragedy that has befallen you. It also acknowledges our beautiful natural environment and shows respect for it as well, it also acknowledges those… that have fallen and also those injured and lying in hospitals around New Zealand.

"With the protocols of today, we ask [for] help with healing. This is part of our response as a people."

A passenger from Ovation of the Seas takes a moment during a karakia honouring those affected by White Island's eruption. Photo / George Novak
A passenger from Ovation of the Seas takes a moment during a karakia honouring those affected by White Island's eruption. Photo / George Novak

Te Kani's comments were met with applause, led by senior ship officers who thanked iwi and the city for the gesture.

Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell who told the crowd the city sent its love and aroha to those affected.

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Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell and councillor Kelvin Clout were among dignitaries taking part in a special karakia for cruise ship visitors affected by White Island's eruption. Photo / George Novak
Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell and councillor Kelvin Clout were among dignitaries taking part in a special karakia for cruise ship visitors affected by White Island's eruption. Photo / George Novak

Afterwards Ngai Te Rangi chairman Charlie Tawhio said iwi wanted to offer what they could to help aid and comfort visitors affected by the eruption.

"I haven't done anything like this before. I had some misgivings about it at first but the people who were there understood what the essence of what we were doing was."

Tawhio said the karakia te tau mauri was about bringing peace and rest to the spirit of the ship.

Ngai Te Rangi's Reon Tuanau sounds the beginning of a karakia tau te mauri after a moment's silence at the Port of Tauranga. Photo / George Novak
Ngai Te Rangi's Reon Tuanau sounds the beginning of a karakia tau te mauri after a moment's silence at the Port of Tauranga. Photo / George Novak

"For us, it was about the people sailing away and carrying some of the trauma with them, and also for Ngati Awa who couldn't be here to do it themselves. We were very proud to be able to do this for them."

Ngati Awa is the iwi based in Whakatāne who also own White Island Tours, which has been heavily involved in the tragedy.

Ovation of the Seas was scheduled to leave the Port of Tauranga at 6.15pm yesterday but this was delayed due to police operational matters. It was provisionally expected to depart at 7.15am today.