The vessels caught the attention of maritime authorities during the regional surveillance and enforcement Operation Island Chief across the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of PNG, Palau, FSM, RMI, Nauru, Kiribati, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands.
The ten-day Operation ‘Island Chief’ is part of the annual fisheries surveillance program led by the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency linking maritime and police offices in country to the Honiara-based FFA Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre, or RSFC. A major part of any fisheries surveillance exercise involves communications between the land-based offices with participating air and sea ‘assets’ and crew from the defence forces of Australia, France, New Zealand and the United States.
“While further details and investigations are now in the hands of the national authorities, this operation has successfully demonstrated the value and strength of FFA members working together to achieve common goals. We will continue to send a message to fishing boat operators that are licensed to fish that they must do so within their license conditions,” says Movick. “As for any unlicensed boats that are still foolish enough to come into this region, these vessels must get the message that their days of illegal and improper fishing are numbered. It is only a matter of time before the national authorities catch up with the recorded activity in their EEZs.”
The 2014 Island Chief operation involved more than 500 officers coordinating across three key levels: national maritime, police and fisheries HQs, air and naval support from Australia, NZ, and the US, and the FFA Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre.
Participating member nations for the operation were Papua New Guinea (PNG), Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Republic of Palau, Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI), Nauru, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and Solomon Islands.
Island Chief 2014 involved six Pacific patrol boasts from PNG, Palau, FSM, RMI, Kiribati and two US Coast Guard vessels, supported by four long-range maritime patrol aircraft from the Royal Australian Air Force and Royal New Zealand Air Force. The surveyed area covered almost 4,000,000 square kilometres of ocean (which equates to approximately 20 per cent of the entire FFA membership). Surveillance checks for vessels to confirm their compliance with a range of national and regional fisheries regulations saw more than 500 fishing vessels monitored with 247 sightings and 73 boardings.
“I commend the nine Pacific Islands countries and our four defence and border control partners that took an active and committed role in this intensive regional operation. These exercises are 24-hours a day, ten-day surveillance actions linking hundreds of personnel working from air, land and sea to get the full picture of what fishing vessels are doing in our Pacific waters. Without their participation and support, surveillance would basically fall apart,” says Movick.
In addition to the regional watch keepers who assisted information gathering at the FFA RSFC in Honiara, on-board observers from Kiribati, Tuvalu, Nauru and RMI joined the US Coast Guard patrols of their EEZs while officers from the Australian Fisheries Management Authority gained first-hand experience in Pacific Patrol Boat operations by sailing with PNG vessels.