30 January 2023
Technical adviser Chief Petty Officer Garry Danaher, commended for his actions during the 2022 Tongan volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami, said the sound of the eruption was the most unbelievable explosion he’d ever heard.
“A sudden and extreme change in pressure hit our ears, followed shortly after by an unimaginable crack,” Chief Petty Officer Danaher said.
“This occurred over and over again before rock and ash started raining from the sky.”
For his actions helping his “Tongan brothers and sisters” during the island nation’s worst natural disaster, Chief Petty Officer Danaher was awarded the Conspicuous Service Medal on Australia Day.
Chief Petty Officer Danaher said kilos of pumice from the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano created havoc with the engines’ sea water cooling systems on Tonga Royal Navy’s Guardian-class patrol boats.
Tonga Royal Navy operates two Australian-gifted Guardian-class patrol boats, received in 2019 and 2020.
“We had to come up with some fairly creative ways to keep the boats going so they could achieve their mission of rescuing survivors while surveying the destruction and delivering aid to the isolated islands,” Chief Petty Officer Danaher said.
“Repair techniques that are trained for, but not typically used, were required to keep the boats running.”
The tsunami led to wide-spread devastation, but it did not destroy the Tongan spirit.
Chief Petty Officer Danaher said singing coming from the patrol boats as they ferried survivors into the safety of Masefield Navy Base demonstrated strength and resilience in difficult times.
The Royal Australian Navy has maintained technical adviser postings to Tonga for decades.
Early in his posting to Tonga, Chief Petty Officer Danaher assisted the Government of Tonga’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts, providing technical advice and logistic support for the patrol boats as they delivered vaccines to smaller, hard-to-access islands.
Chief Petty Officer Danaher was commended for advancing the Australia-Tonga Defence partnership.
“The Tongan culture puts family and community at the forefront, and I feel very proud that through this position I was embraced by their family,” he said.