Despite the naval ship HMNZS Otago being called away to help with cyclone aid in Tonga in February the fundraising event it was to have been the host of went ahead — in terms of gathering much-needed cash for a worthy cause.

The Otago had been lined up to make its maiden Tremains Art Deco Festival visit, and to host the Port of Napier Charity Cocktail function on its decks but, while on its voyage to Napier, was called to the Devonport Naval Base to be on stand-by for a possible relief mission after Cyclone Gita tore through Tonga.

Which, as Hawke's Bay regional naval officer Lieutenant Commander Neville Smith said, is what the navy does in terms of emergencies.

The same way it responded to the needs of Christchurch and Kaikoura after the earthquake's which wreaked destruction there, and the way it steered a course for Hawke's Bay in the wake of the 1931 earthquake.


So, while the non-arrival of the Otago meant the annual fundraising cocktail party had to be cancelled, there was no question among those who had purchased tickets what they wanted to happen from that point.

"I rang people to say it was off due to Otago being called to aid duty and if they passed on their bank account number for a refund we would do that."

The replies he received were a unanimous "no" as the navy was simply doing its important job.

Mr Smith paid special praise to Napier Port which had bought a fair slice of the tickets, as well as other local businesses and individuals.

What they effectively donated was $7000 — for the cyclone recovery programme.

The navy worked in with Tonga's National Emergency Office about where to direct the funds, and the result was to help with the funding for four brand new, and much-needed, 10,000 litre water tanks.

Two were set up at the Government Primary School, one at Ha'asini School and one at Hoi School — to the delight of the school leaders.

Tiffany Babington, the New Zealand High Commissioner to Tonga, officially handed over the two tanks, on behalf of the navy and the Hawke's Bay donors, to Pomana Hui, the principal of the Government Primary School.

The principal told navy officials present that the school was still very much in recovery mode after the cyclone and all at the school were extremely grateful.

They had previously only had a 5000 litre tank to draw on — now they had 20,000 litres.

High Commissioner Babington said she received a letter from one of the youngsters at the school which read "we thank you for giving us our much needed tanks".

The schools in Tonga use their tanks to provide assistance to surrounding villages in times of water shortages so the new tanks would support the wider community in years to come.

"I was delighted how it all came together," Lt Cdr Smith said, adding that a navy cocktail evening would again be on the schedule for the 2019 festival — all things going well.

"But when something like that (the cyclone and earthquakes) happen then the navy has to step in."

One navy vessel had already been confirmed for next year, as had the Royal New Zealand Navy Band, now regulars on the deco scene.