TWO Solomon Islands Patrol boats in hot pursuit of wooden Vietnamese vessels allegedly fishing illegally in our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) could not fire upon the foreign boats because there was no permission from Australia, it has emerged.
The incident which occurred off Rennell, Renbel Province, a week ago yesterday highlighted the risks faced by our sailors in doing their work.
Members of the rapid response group (RRG) who were deployed on the Patrol Boats for the operation had to resort to firing teargas after one of the patrol boats resorted to ramming one of the wooden vessels in the chase, disabling it, sources close to the operations a week ago yesterday, said.
“Members of RAMSI were on board the two patrol boats with arms but they could not use them as there was no permission from Canberra,” sources familiar with the operations said.
“That was when the Captain of one of the patrol boats decided to ram one of the wooden vessels as a last resort as there was nothing else to do. They had to use teargas, but the crew of the fishing vessels simply locked up their windows so no one was affected,” one source said.
“That decision to ram one of the fishing vessels stopped three of them but the fourth one managed to escape. These fishing vessels just wouldn’t stop despite verbal warnings from the crew of our patrol boats. It was a frightening experience for the crew of our patrol boats because these foreign fishing boats could be armed,” the source said.
The disabled fishing vessel is said to be listing at the Mbokona Patrol Boat Base in Honiara. Its crew along with crew members of the other two boats are awaiting court appearance in Honiara.
In the past, our patrol boats would shoot across the bows of fishing boats found fishing illegally in our waters.
The sources said the incident highlighted the risks faced by Members of the Patrol Boat Squadron.
“It’s something that the government needs to address as a matter of urgency,” the source said.