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Source: New Zealand Defence Force

More than 200 New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) personnel have completed a successful deployment to assist with Solomon Islands’ general election, and provide other support to the island nation.

The NZDF personnel were part of a Joint Task Force sent on behalf of the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, with a primary role of helping deliver polling kits, ballot boxes and election officials to remote areas of Solomon Islands, ahead of the 17 April election.

Comprised of six main islands and more than 900 smaller ones covering a total area of nearly 29,000km2, ensuring everyone in the country had access and a fair chance to vote was a significant logistical challenge, but one which the Task Force managed smoothly.

Over the course of 12 days, the Task Force delivered 105 polling kits and 361 ballot boxes, and visited 43 villages throughout Solomon Islands.

Two Royal New Zealand Air Force NH90 helicopters, which were operated from the deck of Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) vessel HMNZS Canterbury, played a significant role in transporting officials and election resources.

Squadron Leader Dan Garnett was the Joint Task Force’s Chief of Staff and co-ordinated operations from the headquarters.

“We’ve enjoyed working with Solomon Island Electoral Commission and appreciated this opportunity to support our Pacific neighbours,” Squadron Leader Garnett said.

“This was my first time visiting Solomon Islands but it’s great to see the strong ties we have to the nation; from commemorating HMNZS Moa (an RNZN minesweeper which sunk off the coast of Guadalcanal during the Second World War) to the support offered by the NZDF at last year’s Pacific Games, as well as previous election support. Those connections enabled us to get stuck in and get the job done this time as well.”

After the election tasks were complete, the contingent was also able to provide a variety of other support, including delivering nearly 10 tonnes of educational resources and around 240kg of World Vision aid supplies around the country.

Crews also conducted aerial surveys of landslides on the island of Santa Isabel, which was impacted by the heavy rains of Tropical Cyclone Jasper last year.

The survey data will be used by the National Disaster Management Office and Geological Survey Division to assess the risk of secondary disaster impacts and to mitigate further damage in the affected areas.  

The NZDF contingent has now departed Solomon Islands on board HMNZS Canterbury and will conduct further engagements in New Caledonia before sailing back to New Zealand.

Squadron Leader Garnett said these deployments are important to show New Zealand playing its role in the Pacific.

“The Pacific is our neighbourhood. We’re part of the Pacific whānau and it’s reassuring to know that we were able to contribute to a secure, stable and resilient Pacific.”