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Issue No. 410 February 2017

Help when it’s needed most

The Kaipara Harbour tragedy shocked the nation – but none more so than the New Zealand Pacific communities whose members made up all but one of the victims.

Four Tongans, two Cook Islanders and a Samoan were among eight men killed when the charter vessel Francie sank on Saturday 26 November. Two Tongans and one Cook Islander survived.

As well as engaging with grieving families, it was clear Waitemata District staff needed to address wider Pacific communities.

“We recognised it wouldn’t be a mainstream response and that we’d need officers with special cultural and language skills,” says Inspector Willi Fanene, District Manager Community, Ethnic and Youth.

Top left: The pre-Christmas gifts bring a smile to youngsters’ faces; bottom left: Liaison officers meet with Inspectors Willi Fanene and Mark Fergus; right: a screen grab of one of the social media videos.

On Sunday 27 November, Maori Pacific and Ethnic Services (MPES) and other Police staff of Pacific descent were called into liaison roles.

Willi, along with two Senior Sergeants, three Sergeants and five Constables from Tongan, Samoan and Cook Island backgrounds – all fluent speakers of their Pacific languages - were later joined by two more Tongan speakers.

The Sergeants and Constables formed family liaison teams, overseen by Senior Sergeants George Fanamanu and Joe Aumua. Police social media videos addressed the communities in their own languages.

It was decided a senior Pacific officer should front media alongside the Operation Commander, Rodney Area Commander Inspector Mark Fergus. Willi stepped up, specifically to discuss the liaison role.

The liaison officers gave families regular updates and help with identification of loved ones, ACC claims, recovered property and funeral arrangements. They supported them through the inquiry process, helping them prepare for interviews. This greatly helped the investigators.

Other support flowed from community, government agencies, NGOs and businesses. Victim Support and Pacific community services engaged with families, VS also providing money to tide them over the holiday period.

Police helped access discounted Air New Zealand fares for families travelling to and from the islands; the grieving families of Francie skipper William McNatty and another of the victims helped the other families financially.

Locals in Helensville and Parakai collected gifts for the families. When Police liaison officers delivered them before Christmas they needed a truck, provided free by a local firm.

Willi says families were overwhelmed by the support. Feedback from the worst-affected Tongan community was particularly positive.

“Over the past 15 years, MPES has worked tirelessly with our communities to build Police’s capacity and capability in language and cultural knowledge,” says Willi. “These efforts are bearing fruit and Operation Kaipara is an example of this.”

Mark says the cultural input eased the progress of a sensitive and complex operation.

“We can’t bring people back but we try to offer families as much comfort and support as we can,” he says. “This was a unique way to do it.

“It was about understanding particular cultural concerns. Police has officers with that degree of understanding and it was quite mind-blowing to see how much work our people put into it.”

He paid tribute to all Police staff involved in Operation Kaipara, and those from the other emergency services and partners such as Westpac Helicopter, Coastguard, St John Ambulance and Surf Lifesaving Northern Region.

Police are also working with iwi to arrange a blessing of the site this month. “Everyone has come together,” says Mark.

The victims were: Auerua Aria, 59, Fred Marsters, 58, Alipate Manumia, 33, Tevita Tangi, 31, Fonua Taufa, 42, Sunia Ungounga, 43, Taulagi Afamasaga, 56, and William McNatty, 68.

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