After Devastating Volcano Eruption, inReach® Devices Provide Critical Communication

A powerful underwater volcanic eruption and ensuing tsunami on 15th January 2022 devastated the island nation of Tonga. In addition to mass destruction, the eruption severed the island nation’s sole communication conduit, an undersea cable, causing a digital cutoff from the rest of the world until phone and internet could begin to be restored.

The only source of communication following the eruption came from a limited number of satellite communicators and radios available.

Those who were prepared with inReach satellite communicators were widely sharing their devices to give fellow island residents the opportunity to communicate with friends and family.

One of those people was Roy Neymen, a sailor who has sheltered on the island of Vava’u in Tonga for the past several years and has been awaiting the end of COVID-19 restrictions.

“I woke up to messages from him after the eruption, sent via his Garmin inReach,” his daughter, Lisa Neyman, said. “Thankfully, Vava’u seems to have escaped the impacts from the tidal wave, but they still have been covered in ash and lost all communication tools.”

As part of his toolkit for sailing, Roy had equipped his vessel with an inReach device. And it turned out that the only working device that could communicate beyond Vava’u borders was that device.

Utilising the inReach satellite communication, the Vava’u Volunteer Maritime Response Association (VVMRA) was able to quickly send reports to the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand, the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Tongan Ambassador to Australia on the status of the people and property in Vava’u. And as the situation unfolded, well-being reports were transmitted to various additional consulates and embassies about expatriates living in Vava’u.  

“He has been working with the local government there as a sort of communications liaison,” Lisa said, referring to her dad. “In order to facilitate both our communication and his helping the local government and residents with updates and messages of varying content.”

Roy then set up a communication centre at a local hangout and eatery, allowing residents to reach out to family, friends and employers. Over the following 2 weeks, nearly 1,600 messages went out. Garmin compensated Roy for costs associated with the mass usage of his device. 

 “Your equipment provided emergency communication for an entire island after the eruption,” Lisa said.

Additionally, Roy used the inReach device to receive international news briefings about the situation, provide weather reports and bring some solace to the people of Vava’u, knowing that the world was aware of the disaster and responding.

“This one device, the Garmin inReach, was the single point of contact that reconnected people facing an unprecedented communication blackout with the help they desperately needed,” said Brian Meikle, radio responder and association secretary for the VVMRA.

“Words cannot truly express how thankful I am, and our community is, that we could communicate with the outside world immediately after the events of 15th January here in the Kingdom of Tonga. This connection would not have been possible without Roy Neyman and his trusted Garmin inReach.”

NOTICE: To access the Iridium satellite network for live tracking and messaging, including SOS capabilities, an active satellite subscription is required. Some jurisdictions regulate or prohibit the use of satellite communications devices. It is the responsibility of the user to know and follow all applicable laws in the jurisdictions where the device is intended to be used.