Elon Musk offered to send Starlink internet terminals to Tonga after the Pacific island nation was left isolated from the rest of the world by a recent volcanic eruption and tsunami – only to retract his offer hours later.
Responding on Twitter to a news report that Tonga could be without internet connection for a month, the billionaire Tesla founder wrote: “Could people from Tonga let us know if it is important for SpaceX to send over Starlink terminals?”
Tongan politician Lord Fusitu’a responded by saying: “Yes we need them to get liquidity in to purchase much-needed goods. Voice and data completely down with undersea cable severed.”
A number of Tongans across the world all replied with pleas for help. One, Josephine Latu-Sanft, a Tongan communications specialist, who wrote: “I don’t know the details of what Starlink can do, but I know you have the technology and means to help.”
But soon after making the offer, the billionaire appeared to retract it in a reply to a letter addressed to him from a New Zealand MP.
In response, Musk wrote: “This is a hard thing for us to do right now, as we don’t have enough satellites with laser links and there are already geo sats that serve the Tonga region. That is why I’m asking for clear confirmation.”
Last week, UK-funded aid headed to Tonga to help the relief effort following the devastating disaster.
The supplies, being sent on board HMAS Adelaide, of the Australian navy, include almost 100 tents.
Meanwhile, the Royal Navy’s offshore patrol vessel, HMS Spey, will sail from Tahiti to Tonga carrying water and medical supplies.
Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, said: “Our thoughts are with those caught up in the appalling devastation and loss of life caused by the tsunami in Tonga.”
UN humanitarian officials estimate that about 84,000 people — more than 80 per cent of Tonga’s population — have been affected by the eruption of an undersea volcano, which has led to deaths, injuries, loss of homes and polluted water.
The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted on Saturday, triggering a tsunami which has caused devastation across the archipelago nation.
HMAS Adelaide set sail on Friday carrying British aid including 90 family tents, eight community tents and six wheel barrows, with all items provided at the request of the Tongan government.
Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, instructed HMS Spey to sail to Tonga to assist in the humanitarian aid operation.
HMS Spey is due to arrive in Tonga nethisxt week and the vessel’s commanding officer, Commander Mike Proudman, said: “I’m proud that the Royal Navy can play its part in the efforts to respond to the devastating volcanic eruption and tsunami in Tonga.”
The UK has also offered to fund the deployment of crisis experts through the United Nations.