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Pacific governments welcome resumption of surveillance

Pacific governments have welcomed the resumption of aerial surveillance of their exclusive economic zones (E.E.Z.) during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

The Forum Fisheries Agency (F.F.A.) Director General, Dr. Manu Tupou-Roosen, said in a statement released by the Honiara-based regional organisation that the island nations expressed the sentiment through their ministers who attended the 17th Forum Fisheries Committee [FFC] meeting from August 6-7.

The resumption of surveillance by aircraft operated by the Australian Department of Defence began on July 1, and followed the gradual easing of travel restrictions and interest received from F.F.A. member states to conduct maritime surveillance over their E.E.Z.

The F.F.A. Secretariat and the Australian Department of Defence initially agreed to suspend the surveillance program in March this year, due to the swift move by Pacific Island countries to restrict travel, coupled with the uncertainty and risks involved at the height of the pandemic.

“With the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions on other forms of monitoring such as observer coverage, constant aerial surveillance is critical for Pacific Island countries to monitor their vast E.E.Z.,” Dr Tupou-Roosen said.

“We note the strict COVID-related clearance protocols in place in the region and are working with the appropriate authorities to satisfy these protocols so as to continue to provide our members with the surveillance they require.”

Dr. Manu Tupou-Roosen also added that one of the benefits of the program is that in addition to members being able to direct the aircraft – in terms of where, when and what they would like to target in terms of illegal, unreported and unregulated [IUU] fishing – it also addresses other maritime security-related threats.

Since the lifting of the suspension, the aerial surveillance aircraft has been providing surveillance for the Solomon Islands.

The Royal Solomon Islands Police [RSIP] Maritime Division Commander, Chief Superintendent Charles Fox Sau, noted that the Solomon Islands has limited capacity in terms of border patrols and monitoring their EEZ  and they are thankful for the Australian government’s assistance. 

“We are grateful to the governments of Australia and New Zealand and to the F.F.A for providing aerial surveillance assistance, which is complementing our patrol boats in monitoring our borders - especially for the illegal entry of small craft,” Chief Superintendent Sau said.

During the F.F.C. ministerial meeting, Ministers made specific reference to the support provided by the F.F.A. Secretariat to Members, through the use of the vessel monitoring system to contact trace the movements of fishing vessels. 

This has been invaluable for ensuring border security and mitigating the risk of COVID-19 entering countries by sea.

Negotiations with Pacific Island countries interested in recommencing their aerial surveillance is currently underway. F.F.A. members are encouraged to contact the F.F.A. to ensure their access to the aerial surveillance program.

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