We meet Brian Meikle, Radio Responder and Association Secretary from new IMRF member, the Vava'u Volunteer Maritime Response Association (VVMRA).

The Vava'u Volunteer Maritime Response Association (VVMRA) was established nearly 20 years ago, by Baker Hardin, a retired American Army Radio Operator, to help the Tonga Ministry of Police with search and rescue (SAR) operations. 

The Kingdom of Tonga is an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, comprising 169 islands, 36 of which are inhabited. At the time there was no official body providing SAR services and yet there was a clear need with visiting yachties, the expatriate community and the Tongan community all using the local waters for leisure and fishing.

Baker created a volunteer group called the Vava'u Emergency Response Association (VERA). 

The group's primary purpose was to maintain a coastal watch on VHF channels to assist vessels in distress. 

Over the years, VERA became well known to the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) and the Tongan Police as a vital source of help when it came to SAR operations.

Because Vava'u lacked the assets to conduct SAR operations on the water, the visiting yachtie and local boating community would provide resources when requested and organized by VERA. 

However, in December of 2015, the Government of Australia provided three small SAR boats (one for each significant island group) and the initial training for the Tongan Police.

The RCCNZ, under a South Pacific Maritime Training program, also started meeting with Tongan officials to develop SAR Coordination training.

Sadly, Mr. Hardin died in 2016, but several community members came together to keep VERA operating and the first formal SAR training session with the Tongan Police Force from Tongatapu, Ha'apai, and Vava'u, was delivered by RCCNZ in September 2017. 

VERA was encouraged to formalize itself into a Tongan Incorporated Society (Not for Profit) and changed its name to remove ‘emergency response’ to avoid confusion with the Tongan Police, which is the official Ministry in Tonga with that designation and legal responsibility.

And so, in August 2018, VERA became the Vava'u Volunteer Maritime Response Association (VVMRA) and was granted a license as an incorporated society (NGO). 

In October 2020, a memorandum of understanding between the Ministry of Police of the Kingdom of Tonga and the VVMRA was signed to formalize the relationship and agree assistance during SAR operations.

Today, VVMRA promotes boating and water safety through educational programs, provides safety equipment, offers trip watch services for the Tongan Police and Customs boat crews, and assists with SAR operations with assets and communication coordination.  

The association also maintains a 24/7 VHF radio watch on Channels 16 and 26 and uses the call sign "Vava'u Radio".

Brian Meikle, Radio Responder and Association Secretary VVMRA says: “Our goal is simply to make the coastal waters safer for everyone in the Kingdom of Tonga, and above all else we are always ready to respond.”

Find out more here: https://www.vvmra.org.