White Island eruption: What police boat was doing so close to shore

Auckland's primary police patrol boat spent hours very close to White Island / Whakaari on Wednesday morning, and it's role has now been revealed.

According to two live marine trackers, the Deodar 111 - a twin-hull patrol boat operated by the Auckland Maritime Unit - was just off the volcanic island's landing area at around 7:45am on Wednesday.

Police initially refused to reveal the boat's specific activities so close to the island when asked for information by Newshub, saying it was "providing whatever support [required]". A spokesperson stressed no individual stepped foot on the island.

"In a maritime environment, it obviously makes sense to have our maritime officers providing support to those working on the ground," police said on Wednesday. 

"Deodar is providing support in a variety of ways. This is a significant operation and all Police staff working on it are undertaking a range of activities."

However, on Thursday, after Police Minister Stuart Nash blasted police communication and called for greater transparency during the eruption aftermath, police confirmed the boat was the launch site for drones. 

"Yes – the FENZ-operated drones that went up early yesterday were launched from Deodar," Newshub was told.

Fire and Emergency NZ referred questions about the drone's deployment to police.

The boat's movements were tracked online, showing it go close into White Island's landing bay.
The boat's movements were tracked online, showing it go close into White Island's landing bay. Photo credit: Supplied.

The deployment of drones was flagged early as a necessary task in the police response to the devastating eruption, which has taken at least eight lives and caused injuries to more than 30. The drones capture data about the volcano to help scientists determine its stability and condition.

Police earlier confirmed a drone had been successfully deployed off White Island and did four fly-overs. However, the police spokesperson didn't initially say if the Deodar 111 was involved.

Police previously stated drones would be sent from a New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) ship at the perimeter of the island. HMNZS Wellington was sailing close to White Island for most of Wednesday - including when the Deodar 111 was in the bay - but far further offshore than the police boat.

According to the live trackers, Deodar 111 stayed off White Island for roughly two hours before driving to the nearby Moutohora Island. It then sailed out into the sea before eventually driving to the Whakatane authorities' headquarters on Wednesday evening.

The boat is part of Auckland's Maritime Unit based at Mechanics Bay in the Waitemata Harbour.

"Its operational area covers approximately 3,700 square kilometres. This includes the greater Hauraki Gulf, the Firth of Thames and associated harbours and inlets," police say.

The boat is often supported by inflatable boats.

Recovery efforts by police have been hampered due to the unstable nature of the volcano. Scientific advice suggests there is up to a 60 percent chance of an eruption similar to Monday's happening on Thursday.