Rai Balang maritime sweep nets illegal fishers in North Pacific
FFA HQ, Honiara, SOLOMON ISLANDS. – The annual Rai Balang maritime surveillance sweep focussed in the North Pacific had some record results as it wound down its ten-day operation for 2014 late Friday. The administrative seizure and torching of fishing tenders and gear, citations for six fishing vessels, and boardings by inspectors of 69 fishing vessels across the Micronesian region has sent a clear message to vessels in Pacific waters fishing in breach of their license agreements, or without a licence: you will be caught.
Operation Rai Balang is one of four annual regional monitoring control and surveillance operations aimed at stopping illegal, unreported and unregulated, or IUU fishing, in the Pacific. Led by the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, FFA, the timing of all surveillance exercises is a closely guarded secret involving FFA’s Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre, Maritime, Fisheries and Police officials in participating member countries, and support from the aerial and naval resources of the United States, France, New Zealand, and Australia.
Rai Balang 2014 saw a high number of infringements, with Palau's confiscation of fishing gear from two unlicensed fishing vessels and the holding of a crew abandoned by their vessel as it beat a hasty retreat from capture by authorities. In the Federated States of Micronesia, one Patrol boat issued citations to half of the ten boardings it conducted.
The record year for Rai Balang did not just come from its 39 sightings, 67 boardings, and 8 infringements. The use of automated data analysis tools by the FFA Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre (which doubled as the Joint Coordination Centre), detected dozens of cases of interaction between fishing, transhipment and bunker vessels. In addition, 397 vessels were ‘sensed’ – detected via radar contact or automatic identification systems -- helping to focus surveillance efforts across almost 8.7million square kilometres of ocean covered by this exercise.
Patrol boats from Palau, Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia participated in Rai Balang 2014, conducted in those nations’ exclusive economic zones plus the waters of Nauru, and Papua New Guinea. Maritime surveillance aircraft from Australia and the US supported the operation.
“Regional maritime surveillance operations such as Rai Balang continue to deliver lessons to us on the benefits achieved when countries combine effort and resources for Pacific success,” says FFA Director General James Movick. He commended the ongoing commitment from Australia, France, New Zealand and the US in providing aerial surveillance and naval support. The Director General thanked the national fisheries and marine enforcement authorities in the participating countries for safeguarding Pacific fisheries from IUU fishing. Personnel from Palau and Marshall Islands worked alongside compatriots from Australia, New Zealand and the United States Coast Guard in the Joint Coordination Centre at the FFA Secretariat. The Director General also acknowledged input from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Guam centre, adding to the subregional exercise, and ensuring a broad level of support from FFA member nations .--ENDS