One of two scheduled Royal New Zealand Navy ships which was on its way to Napier for the Tremains Art Deco Festival has been called to do what the navy did back in 1931 — assist and aid.

The offshore patrol vessel HMNZS Otago had been on its way to Napier and had been due to dock on Wednesday morning — but the destructive forces of nature stepped in.

Hawke's Bay Regional Naval Officer Lieutenant Commander Neville Smith said HMNZS Otago had been recalled to Devonport Naval Base in the wake of Cyclone Gita striking Tonga and leaving a massive trail of destruction.

Crew from the Protector Class vessel, captained by Lieutenant Commander Lorna Gray, would need to be redeployed as the navy stepped in to provide humanitarian aid.


"As it has always been the saying — thank God for the navy," Smith said.

It was not the first time the navy, through its link with Napier, had been called to assist around this time of the year.

Back in 2011, the HMNZS Canterbury was in Napier for the festival, which was in the 80th year since the great earthquake.

After it left Napier for exercises off the South Island, it docked in Lyttleton and was there when the destructive Christchurch earthquake struck — the way HMS Veronica had been in Napier when the 1931 'quake hit.

While Otago was no longer set to tie up, there would be no changes to the navy's programme in Napier, Smith said.

HMNZS Hawea, an inshore patrol vessel, was still arriving on schedule.

Smith said a charity cocktail function which would have taken place aboard HMNZS Otago, and which sold out in just a few hours, may have become a casualty of the call to aid but many of those who had bought tickets had given him, and those charged with overseeing the Te Kaha education grants programme it raised funds for, a huge warming boost.

"Many people have said no, we don't want a refund — give the money for aid to Tonga."