Extraordinary surveillance operation in the Pacific

The crews of FSS Palikir and FSS Independence have completed their participation in the recent Forum Fisheries Agencies Operation RAI BALANG 20. The operation is unprecedented in achieving maritime surveillance across 14.1 million square kilometres, including 108 sighting and 24 boardings, during the heightened global response to coronavirus. 

The FFA coordinated air and surface surveillance assets from eight Pacific Island countries and four regional Defence partners for 12 days from 16-27 March, during which time international response to coronavirus was rapidly developing. 

“Fishing doesn’t stop, so neither will our surveillance,” said Commander Robert Lewis, at the FFA’s Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre (RFSC) in Honiara.  “Fisheries surveillance in the Pacific is imperative to ensure compliance by the fishing fleets, and deter any illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities.  Fisheries have a direct benefit for Pacific island counties economies, and that makes surveillance even more important in these unprecedented times.”

The participants of Op Rai Balang were eight FFA member states: Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.  This was supported by Quadrilateral defence partners: Australia, France, New Zealand and the United States, and the Pacific Maritime Surveillance Programme aircraft.  Due to developing global travel restrictions and recalls of national surveillance assets, not all surveillance assets were utilised as planned.

Some of the aims of this Operation were:

  1. to detect, deter, report and/or apprehend potential illegal, unregulated or unreported (IUU) fishing activity;
  2. to enhance Pacific Island Countries involvement and participation in maritime fisheries surveillance and response operations; and
  3. to test the Niue Treaty Information System and processes supporting the enactment of specific provisions of the Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement through a planned series of table top exercises embedded within the Operation.

FSS Palikir departed Yap 02 March to conduct a Sea Air Rescue to locate a missing fisherman off Satawal Island, Chuuk State. Aircraft from the USCG in Guam as well as USCG Kiska and merchant vessels were also involved in the search. Unfortunately, the search was called off on 11 March with the missing fisherman unable to be located.

FSS Palikir departed Chuuk 15 March to commence OP RAI BALANG 20 and proceeded to conduct a patrol from Chuuk to Pohnpei, during the course of the patrol which lasted 156 hours the vessel covered 1560 nautical miles and investigated 19 merchant / fishing vessels.

FSS Independence departed Pohnpei 18 March to commence OP RAI BALANG 20 and conducted a patrol along the southern Exclusive Economic Zone towards Yap. Her patrol lasted 133 hours and covered 1337 nautical miles and investigated 4 merchant / fishing vessels.

The Commander of the Maritime Wing, Commander Steward Peter stated “I am very proud of the efforts of my crews to ensure the continued safety and economic viability of the FSM’s Exclusive Economic Zone particularly during the current COVID-19 crisis. We must ensure that foreign vessels understand that we will continue to patrol our waters and enforce our National laws”.

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