JANUARY 26, 2022 – The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Sampson (DDG 102), is underway, Jan. 25, supporting the disaster relief efforts in Tonga following the volcanic eruption and tsunami in the country.
Sampson, a U.S. Navy destroyer, along with its embarked MH-60R Seahawk helicopters assigned to the “Scorpions” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 49 are positioned to conduct lifesaving actions in support of disaster relief efforts in Tonga. The ship is operating in support of international relief efforts in Tonga. The Australian Government response is being coordinated closely with France and New Zealand under the FRANZ partnership, alongside Fiji, Japan, United Kingdom and the United States to assist Tonga in its time of need.
“Team Sampson was poised and ready to join in this effort at a moment’s notice and we’re proud to work with our like-minded partners to assist our friends in their time of need,” said Cmdr. Adam Soukup, Sampson’s commanding officer. “Our presence and alliances in the Indo-Pacific allow us to come together quickly to provide aid where it is needed, when called upon; ultimately reinforcing our shared values of regional security.”
The explosion of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano on Jan.15 killed at least three people, sent tsunami waves rolling across the archipelago, damaging villages, resorts and many buildings and knocked out communications for the nation of about 105,000 people.
Helicopters operating from Sampson have conducted aerial damage assessment and have dropped supplies to support the people of Tonga. The destroyer conducted a replenishment at sea with New Zealand oiler HMNZS Aotearoa, Jan. 25 and the ship and crew remain poised to provide lifesaving action as part of the relief efforts.
Sampson has experience providing humanitarian assistance in the region, as the ship was a critical unit that supported relief efforts following the New Zealand earthquake in 2016. U.S. Navy forces regularly work with host and partner nations to enhance regional interoperability and disaster response capabilities, increase stability and security in the region, and foster new and enduring friendships across the Indo-Pacific.
Sampson is assigned to Commander, Task Force 71/Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15 while on a scheduled deployment to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific. CTF 71/DESRON 15 is the Navy’s largest forward-deployed DESRON and the U.S. 7th Fleet’s principal surface force. U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet is the largest forward-deployed fleet and routinely operates and interacts with 35 maritime nations while conducting missions to preserve and protect critical regional partnerships.
The guided missile destroyer USS Sampson is part of a multinational effort aiding the Pacific Ocean Kingdom of Tonga in the aftermath of the Jan. 15 eruption of the undersea volcano Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai.
The ship, part of the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group, arrived at the island nation yesterday. Even before arriving off-shore the ship launched its helicopter to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance damage assessment of remote islands Niuafo’ou, Fonualei, Ofu and Fonuafo’ou, according to Navy Capt. Kyle Raines, the director of public affairs at U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.
“The USS Sampson is on scene now,” Raines said in an email message. “She is providing lifesaving efforts and assistance alongside France, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Japan and others. The multinational approach by allies and partners to assist friends in need demonstrates our shared values towards regional stability and security.”
President Joe Biden spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida about aid to Tonga during a call from the White House Jan. 21. Noting the critical situation in Tonga after the recent volcanic eruption and tsunami, the two leaders reinforced the importance of working together to provide any support necessary to this and future humanitarian disasters in the region, according to a White House read-out of the meeting.
The explosion of the volcano was seen from space and could be heard as far away as Alaska. The tsunami from the eruption was felt as far away as Japan, South America and North America. Tonga — only about 40 miles from the volcano — was hit the hardest. Tongan officials said three people were killed in the kingdom.
Ash from the volcano has covered Tonga and fouled the sources of drinking water for the 108,000 Tongans. The ash cloud from the eruption reached 30 miles into the atmosphere.
Commander, Task Force 71/Destroyer Squadron 15