Coastguard Hawke’s Bay efforts in difficult year recognised in Awards of Excellence 

Coastguard New Zealand is delighted to announce Coastguard Hawke’s Bay as winners in three separate categories at our Awards of Excellence 2023, acknowledging the incredible efforts of volunteers in the face of adversity. 

Coastguard Hawke’s Bay are our winners of Unit of the Year, Community Engagement Unit of the Year, and joint winners along Coastguard Gisborne in our Rescue of the Year category! 

Unit of the Year

It’s been an exceptional year for Coastguard Hawke’s Bay. The Unit has shown considerable commitment to the Hawke’s Bay community and has had a remarkable impact on Search and Rescue (SAR).

Some notable highlights for what’s been an extraordinary year include the successful undertaking of a $250k+ refit of the Unit’s rescue vessel, the significant contribution they made to the Cyclone Gabrielle rescue effort and continuous support to Police during the search for the sole outstanding missing person, Joseph Ahuriri, a long-distance rescue effort with other agencies, and search for a missing diver. And all this in addition to carrying out the usual range of rescues and assists. 

With a strong committee leading the Unit, Coastguard Hawke’s Bay is a true success story with a focus on community engagement, building strong relationships both within the Unit and with its rescue partners, and celebrating success. 

Coastguard New Zealand CEO Callum Gillespie: “Over the past 12 months, there have been numerous challenges for Coastguard Hawke’s Bay to deal with. However, led superbly by Henry van Tuel, the Unit has dealt with everything thrown at them with integrity, care and with people at the core.” 

Community Engagement Unit of the Year

This award recognises excellence in the areas of public relations, fundraising, or community engagement activity by an individual or group. 

Coastguard Hawke’s Bay showed its true resilience, commitment, and community spirit in response to Cyclone Gabrielle. When the cyclone hit, the Unit quickly rallied to assist local Police SAR in the Esk Valley. For two days, the crew focused their efforts on rescuing people from the hard-hit areas. The cyclone had destroyed homes, businesses, and communities, causing significant damage to the community’s infrastructure. 

They then turned their attention to providing support services to other SAR partners. The Unit established a base that served as a rescue and coordination centre for the volunteer rescue partners, LandSAR, Surf, and Coastguard. With a large generator in situ, this base provided much-needed support for the residents as a place to go for companionship, warm showers for volunteer searchers, access to electricity, family, and whānau. The Unit also helped drive Surf vehicles, locate medical equipment, obtain fuel and food supplies, and take people to evacuation centres. 

The Unit also social media experts, regularly engages with the wider community to educate locals on adverse weather and marine conditions through its Facebook page. Their Facebook following of approximately 3,000 allows for a strong reach and interaction of posts, regularly reaching over 25,000 people each month with an average of 1,500 people engaging and reacting to them. This is a testament to the informative content the Unit is sharing and how close they are with their community. 

Coastguard New Zealand CEO Callum Gillespie: “In the face of considerable adversity, Coastguard Hawke’s Bay rose to the occasion and demonstrated remarkable courage and resilience. They exemplified the Coastguard values of altruism, professionalism, and commitment.” 

Rescue of the Year

This prestigious award recognises an exceptional rescue crew who have undertaken an outstanding Search and Rescue or Coastguard operation. 

When a callout is received, you always hope for a positive outcome. Sadly, on this day, a life couldn’t be saved. However, the operation to recover a missing diver last November at Black Reef, Māhia, is a testament to those involved. Coastguard Gisborne and Coastguard Hawkes’ Bay volunteers, along with other Search and Rescue (SAR) partners involved in that incident, acted with great respect, integrity, professionalism, altruism, dedication, and cooperation, exemplifying the Coastguard values.

Coastguard Hawke’s Bay became aware of an incident at Black Reef, Māhia, on a Saturday morning last November when a diver had gone missing. Although the Unit hadn’t received a tasking, they undertook initial planning.

The Gisborne Rescue Helicopter and Coastguard Gisborne were initially tasked to the rescue, but later Coastguard Hawke’s Bay also joined the operation. They refuelled the rescue vessel Celia Knowles and prepared it with extra supplies. Coastguard Gisborne searched the southern end of the Māhia Peninsula, while Coastguard Hawke’s Bay started north of the last known point and conducted a shoreline search. The Gisborne Rescue Helicopter conducted an aerial search. 

Coastguard Gisborne arrived at the search area at around 1220 and began their search. Coastguard Hawke’s Bay arrived at Long Point by 1436 and started their shoreline search in favourable conditions. Coastguard Gisborne deployed a dan buoy to assist with drift calculations, indicating a southeast drift. 

The Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) communicated with both Coastguard vessels throughout the search, providing weather updates and tasking information. Despite several possible targets being checked, nothing significant was found. Coastguard Gisborne completed their taskings and returned to Gisborne by 1618, while Coastguard Hawke’s Bay returned to Napier around 1830. 

The search resumed the next day with Coastguard Hawke’s Bay, Hawke’s Bay Surf Callout Squad, and the Police National Dive Squad involved. On Sunday, November 27, Surf and Coastguard Hawke’s Bay resumed their search and sadly found a body. A Coastguard crew member and a police officer were put ashore to support while waiting for the Police Dive Squad to recover the body. 

Coastguard New Zealand CEO Callum Gillespie: “This incident involved numerous individuals and assets, and it presented various challenges, including the considerable distance. Collaboration among partners, open communication, and meticulous planning were critical in the search efforts. While the outcome was not what we had hoped for, it showcased the courage, resilience, and dedication of all those involved in their efforts to bring closure to the family.” 

Coastguard New Zealand also congratulates our finalists in these categories: 

  • Unit of the YearCoastguard Papakura and Coastguard Wānaka Lakes. 
  • Community Engagement Unit of the YearCoastguard Waihi Beach and Coastguard Wānaka Lakes. 
  • Rescue of the Year – Coastguard Waiuku and Coastguard Tauranga. 


For more information, contact:
Ben Parsons 
Coastguard New Zealand Senior Communications Advisor 
[email protected] 
+64 21 756 405 

Thanks to our life-saving partners:
  • Auckland Council
  • Northland Regional Council
  • Waikato Regional Council
  • Hutchwilco
  • Marine Deals
  • Tower
  • Kordia
  • Hyundai
  • Line7
  • Century Batteries
  • Half Moon Bay
  • NZCT
  • Lotteries Grants Board
  • Lion Foundation
  • Pub Charity