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Offshore Membership Group NEWS Highlights

Article printed in the Spring 2022 edition of The Master, Mate & Pilot and written by David Kris Kopra, Master Matson Kamokuiki.

MV Kamokuiki Crew Photo (Front row, left to right) Dan Marks, Robert Chung, Antonio Respicio, Kris Kopra; (second row, left to right) Kim Sterritt, Kris Skorodynski, Kwaku Addae, Ali Ali, Heath Heller; (third row, left to right) Bryce Baker, Jeff Brown, Michael Sapien, Simone Demich.

MV Kamokuiki Nuku’alofa Aid Mission

The MV Kamokuiki is currently engaged in trade between Auckland, New Zealand, and Shanghai, China, under charter to Matson South Pacific. In recent months, the vessel has called on additional ports including Suva, Fiji, and Shekou, China. The Kamokuiki is a nimble and versatile tramp ship. At 434 ft., 688 TEU, with 2 x 45 MT cranes, she has wide operating range and independence.

The Kamokuiki received word of the relief cargo for Tonga while alongside the berth in Auckland. The crew was ecstatic to get the opportunity to assist. We had been monitoring the GMDSS notifications on our transit south from Guam and were aware of the volcanic activity and tsunami.

On departure from Auckland, the local pilot informed the vessel that he had observed “Matson” containers set up as collection sites for aid donations. Auckland residents donated approved goods and supplies, filling the containers we carried on deck.

The three-day transit from Auckland to Tonga was rough, with beam seas and winds out of the southeast. The weather calmed down on the approach just northwest of Nuku’alofa. Military ships from various countries were steaming off the coast and anchored in the lagoon. We arrived in parallel with a fishing boat and ferry from Fiji, all carrying water and aid. There were delays because the internet had not been fully restored and local authorities had to work all documents in hard copy.

We received notification that the pilot would only be available to assist with docking and were directed to enter the lagoon and anchor near a New Zealand naval vessel. The bridge team tracked an outbound naval ship on ECDIS and radar, confirming the approach route before proceeding into the harbor.

Weaving around off set channel marks and coral shoals, the vessel wedged up into an anchor position as the sun fell. Later that evening, with pilot onboard and anchor heaved home, we proceeded to the pier on Nuku’alofa’s waterfront. It was pitch dark and the tsunami had damaged the lights on the pier, which was indiscernible. The local line handlers shined flashlights and cell phones from shore and the vessel lit a corner up with its spotlight.

Running mooring lines with line boats to an unlit pier in the pitch dark took patience and communication, but in the end the operation went smoothly. Kamokuiki crew prepped the vessel for cargo, then retreated to the accommodation to avoid any contact with Tongan longshore.

The cargo was discharged and the crew made preparations to get underway. From the berth position it was difficult to see tsunami damage. Pilot Hakaumotu Fakapelea explained that a lot of effort had been put into recovering the pier areas as it was their critical lifeline. The pilot stood on the bridgewing conducting multiple jobs from his handheld VHF: we laughed when he told us that he tried to use a different voice for each role. He scheduled a few ships for pilotage, directed a few as port authority, and informed a few more that their health permits were still under review. He was the true community hero of the Nuku’alofa waterfront.

Modern seamen see countries from the end of a closed gangway. Schedules and covid restrictions prevent shore leave around the world. Going to sea has always been isolation, yet the distance between the sailors and communities is growing.

Many sailors find solace knowing that their sacrifices bring needed life support to communities around the globe. Taking the MV Kamokuiki to deliver aid to Nuku’alofa was a fulfilling and motivating experience. It brought a feeling of pride: not only in the individual act of delivering 34 boxes, but in the daily grind that we live to keep the ship running and ready to work cargo. We have the ability to help, be it in our home communities or in a faraway community of strangers.

Author’s Note

Growing up on the Big Island of Hawaii, I learned at a young age that “Matson” was Hawaii’s lifeline. Large containers with the blue logo could be seen parked at every local store and crossing every intersection. Now, as a merchant marine officer operating a Matson ship, I know that my work goes to keeping my community alive. And I take great pride in knowing that we have the ability to help when disaster strikes.