Military planes, ships from French Polynesia on way

By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, Oct. 1, 2009) – France on Thursday announced an imminent deployment of relief assistance to tsunami-stricken Samoa from both its Pacific territories of New Caledonia and French Polynesia.

From New Caledonia a military CASA plane is preparing to take off to Samoa, carrying both human assistance and disaster relief equipment, French High commissioner in New Caledonia Yves Dassonville told a press conference on Thursday.

Another military plane, based in Tahiti (French Polynesia), was also expected to join in the relief efforts and fly to Samoa as well.

Navy vessels were also expected to be added to the French Pacific contribution.

On top of the metropolitan-coordinated aid, local governments of New Caledonia and French Polynesia have also insisted that they contribute to the effort.

For New Caledonia, this meant "thousand of antibiotic doses, medical equipment" and a team of seven doctors to be embarked on the military CASA.

New Caledonia’s government spokesman Philippe Dunoyer said they had also put together some six tonnes of food and drinkable water, as well as health kits, utensils and two thousand tarpaulins.

Dassonville said the French effort was also part of the tripartite "FRANZ" agreement that binds France, Australia and New Zealand armies too coordinate themselves in situations of natural disasters in neighbouring island countries.

On the relief in response to this week’s quake and tsunami that has claimed the lives of at least 150 in Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga, the "FRANZ" coordination has been devoted to New Zealand.

"So we provided them with a list of what we were ready to contribute", Dassonville said.

In French Polynesia, also, another navy ship was expected to visit Tonga, where at least seven people have died from the September 30 quake and tsunami.

French Polynesia’s President Oscar Temaru said on Thursday he had personally written to the head o governments of the three affected Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga to inform them that teams and some six hundred kilograms of medical equipment, one doctor, two nurses and one logistics expert, were going to be despatched.

The equipment also includes an inflatable tent, twenty emergency stretchers, twenty five mortuary bags, eight containers of medicine and a satellite telephone.

The deployment from New Caledonia also relies on a recently-created South Pacific Regional Intervention Platform" (PIROPS), which is a stocking facility in the Nouméa suburbs, where emergency equipment is permanently stocked in order to respond to regional situations at short notice.

The PIROPS was set up with the support of the French Red Cross and is now placed under the responsibility of the regional International Red Cross Committee (ICRC) headquarters in Suva, Fiji.

In October 2008, the Australian government also announced the setting up of a similar facility in Brisbane, in partnership with the Red Cross, Oxfam and World Vision.

"Australia is the regional leader in terms of critical emergency humanitarian relief. It is often the first to respond when a natural disaster strikes our region, international and development assistance secretary Bob McMullan said at the time.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday this week, Australian and New Zealand Defence Ministers John Faulkner and Wayne Mapp announced after a meeting in Sydney that both countries were now to form a "joint rapid reaction military force" in order to respond at short notice to regional disaster and humanitarian crises.

They said the force would further strengthen the already strong defence relationship and would be drawn from the old "ANZAC" concept that saw both forces fight in the same expeditionary corps during world wars one, two and the Vietnam war.

"The ADF (Australian Defence Force) and NZDF (New Zealand Defence Force) will form a Pacific-focused Rapid Reaction Force to respond to regional contingencies including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief… The force will regularly train and exercise together and be able to deploy at short notice", they said in a joint statement.

"The development of this capability is an important demonstration of our mutual commitment to work together to promote security, stability and development in the Pacific region and will, over the next six months, be given impetus through joint ADF NZDF contingency planning for potential regional events", they said.

The move is a direct result of talks held in August this year in Canberra between Australia and New Zealand Prime ministers Kevin Rudd and John Key.

For the past three days, Australia and New Zealand have mobilised significant relief resources in Samoa in terms of military Hercules C-130 and Orion P-3 aircraft, as well as medical teams and equipment worth respectively two million Australian dollars and one million New Zealand dollars.

In American Samoa, which was declared earlier this week by President Barack Obama in a state of "major disaster", aid is coming from Hawaii (also including Hercules C-130 aircraft) as part of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) set-up.

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