20 Mar 2017

Pacific surveillance operation picks up Illegal fishers

3:24 pm on 20 March 2017

Seven vessels are facing charges of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing after a ten day Pacific surveillance operation which ended on Friday.

Nine Pacific countries ran Operation Rai Balang 2017 which co-ordinated out of the Forum Fisheries Agency surveillance centre in Solomon Islands.

The Operation Rai Balang 2017 team.

The Operation Rai Balang 2017 team. Photo: Supplied/ FFA

Operation Rai Balang 2017 covered 14.7 million square km and saw a total of 918 detections of fisheries vessels, 93 aircraft sightings, and 50 boardings 30 of them at sea.

Of the seven arrests five recorded in Vanuatu were longliners flagged to China with minor infringements.

In FSM, a purse seiner flagged to China allegedly had its vessel monitoring system turned off at the time of its inspection.

And in Solomon Islands, a Taiwanese flagged long-liner is facing illegal shark fishing fines because it was allegedly using fishing gear commonly seen in shark capture and finning offences.

The deputy director general of the FFA Wes Norris said each of the seven cases will now be pursued by the relevant FFA members.

He said however they are resolved, Pacific nations were ensuring that those fishing in their waters are complying with the rules, or facing the consequences.

Working with the nine nations, the aerial and maritime defence assets of Australia, New Zealand, France and the US helped to ensure a record and broader co-ordination of activities, which again as in 2016 featured Vietnamese so-called "blue boats".

On 12 March, three Vietnamese so-called "blue boats" were chased out of the Papua New Guinea EEZ by HMPNGS MORESBY.

Four days later, there were two separate sightings-one group less than 100nm South West of Port Moresby; and another group in the vicinity of Lyra Reef, 130 nautical miles North East of Rabaul.

"The Vietnamese blue boats have been earmarked in recent operations as an issue of rising concern, particularly for FSM, Palau, Papua New Guinea and Australia," said FFA Deputy Director General Wez Norris.

A Vietnamese "blue boat".

A Vietnamese "blue boat". Photo: AFP

"They are basically pirates of the reef systems they pillage and that makes them a rising concern to food and environmental security, as well as posing numerous other law enforcement risks. Our Fisheries ministers are keen to see some strategic, effective Pacific responses which can put a stop to this criminal activity," Mr Norris said.

Participating Rai Balang nations in 2017 Fiji, FSM, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, PNG, RMI, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu initially deployed nine Pacific Patrol boats providing a total of 69 days at sea.

The patrol boats and Maritime HQ's across the operation were supported by five QUAD (Australia, France, NZ and US) aircraft which flew 20 missions totalling 119 hours.

The French also provided a patrol boat which operated in the waters between Vanuatu and Fiji. "As always, the direct support from the Quads, and other partners such as the Australian Fisheries Management Authority to the operation have contributed heavily to its success".

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