E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga iwi o te motu e huihui nei, tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou. Kia ora tātou katoa.
I specifically acknowledge
Police Commissioner, Mike Bush
Chief of Navy, Rear Admiral John Martin
Senior Sergeant Bruce Adams, Officer in Charge of the Police National Dive Squad
Past and present members of the Police National Dive Squad
It’s an honour to host the Police National Dive Squad at Government House and to celebrate your 50 years of outstanding service to your country.
The writer Hammond Innes once said, “He who lets the sea lull him into a sense of security is in very grave danger.”
Unfortunately, our citizens and tourists often approach swimming, surfing, fishing and boating with that sense of security and a lack of understanding about the dangers that they face.
And all too frequently, some of them do not return.
Then there are the accidents where for various reasons, cars end up in water, putting their occupants at risk.
You will not be surprised that next week, when I am presenting Royal Humane Society awards, three of them will involve rescues from water, and in two of those cases, the rescue was sadly unsuccessful, resulting in a call on your services.
We are fortunate to have your particular expertise – on call 24/7 – to go wherever you are required around New Zealand, which could well be a remote location with limited access.
I’m told that no two deployments are the same, and the Squad has had to go on dives in the Huka Falls, at hydro dams, off the Chatham Islands, and even in a thermal hot pool, which had an acidity level comparable to that of stomach acid.
It must take particular mental and physical resilience to do such work, on top of already demanding jobs.
No doubt, there is satisfaction from knowing that you are helping to solve mysteries, find crucial evidence or bring closure to tragic events.
When the squad was not yet a year old, its capabilities were put to the test in the aftermath of the Wahine disaster – and it proved its worth.
Again, your expertise was invaluable in the investigation into the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior in 1985 and into the 2006 Kotuku fishing boat tragedy in Foveaux Strait, which claimed six lives.
Very occasionally, a missing person case does not end tragically.
Most memorably, there was the miraculous rescue of Rob Hewitt after he survived 72 hours in the sea, in 2006.
As a nation, I think we all breathed a collective sigh of relief and astonishment.
Rob can thank the keen eye of a Police National Dive Squad member, who after days of extensive searches, spotted something in the water, some way off from his boat, and deciding to investigate further.
That Rob Hewitt, a former Navy diver could get into such a perilous situation, is a reminder of just how treacherous the ocean can be, for even the most skilled among us.
His experience has no doubt given him additional motivation in his work as an ambassador for water safety.
The majority of missing person cases will not have such happy endings.
But however tragic the outcomes, your role in recovering human remains provides a measure of closure for the families and communities involved, for which you earn their undying gratitude.
The nature of your work means that you may not get the public or media recognition that you deserve, but the fact remains that you, along with our Navy Divers, are a select group of professionals who are hugely respected for the results of your evidential searches and your vital services as first responders.
On behalf of all New Zealanders, I thank all of you – past and present members of the Dive Squad – for your professionalism, resilience, and commitment to serving our communities over the past fifty years, and I wish you all the very best with your work in the future.
Kia ora, kia kaha, kia manawanui, huihui tātou katoa