22 Nov 2016

Key: NZ and US 'best of friends'

7:51 pm on 22 November 2016

The USS Sampson - the first American naval ship to visit New Zealand in decades - cruised into Auckland's Waitemata Harbour this afternoon.

John Key aboard the USS Sampson.

John Key aboard the USS Sampson. Photo: RNZ / Sarah Robson

It was here for the Navy's 75th anniversary celebrations, but was diverted to Kaikōura to help with relief efforts after last Monday's earthquake.

On Sunday, acting Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee went aboard the USS Sampson to thank the crew. Today, Prime Minister John Key, who returned from the APEC summit in Peru this morning, did the same.

The ship's Commanding Officer, Tim Labenz, took Mr Key on a tour. Mr Key thanked several sailors for their work in Kaikōura.

On the Sampson's bridge, Mr Key welcomed the crew to New Zealand.

"Thank you for making history as the first US ship to return to New Zealand for really the better part of over 30 years," Mr Key said, using the PA system.

"It's wonderful to have her in New Zealand waters."

Mr Key said the Kaikōura locals greatly appreciated their efforts.

"The work that you did bringing ashore all sorts of necessary items from chemical toilets, to food and water, along with the use of your helicopters, was much appreciated and of great reassurance to the people of Kaikōura."

Mr Key later said the ship's visit showed the relationship between New Zealand and the United States was in good shape.

"There'll always be differences of opinion on different issues on trade, maybe even to climate change, but New Zealand and the United States are the very best of friends.

"The relationship's in the best shape it's been in and I think the USS Sampson is living proof of how strong that relationship really is," Mr Key said.

The USS Sampson is the first American naval ship to visit New Zealand in decades.

The USS Sampson is the first American naval ship to visit New Zealand in decades. Photo: RNZ / Sarah Robson

The US Ambassador to New Zealand, Mark Gilbert, said the USS Sampson's visit was a momentous occasion.

"After the USS Sampson had the opportunity to help with the relief effort in the task group in Kaikōura, to be able to sail up here with the ships from Australia, Canada and New Zealand, it was really wonderful to have them come into port here in Devonport, and then to be able to have the Prime Minister come on board, meet and speak to the crew, was fabulous."

The USS Sampson will head to Vanuatu when it leaves New Zealand.

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