BY GEORGINA KEKEA
REPRESENTATIVES of Pacific countries who are members of the Forum have gathered in Honiara over the past days to discuss issues surrounding maritime security threats in the region in an information sharing workshop at the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) headquarter.
This workshop is being convened to provide baseline input to the development of a new Biketawa Plus regional security declaration. Also the session was held to advance broader maritime law enforcement cooperation for Forum members especially on monitoring, control and surveillance of fishing.
Pacific communities are said to be vulnerable to security threats thus leaders from the region are working vigorously to make sure relevant details are ready in time to provide the baseline input for the new Biketawa Plus.
FFA being a Pacific leader in information sharing together with the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) and Australia are committed to strengthen the region’s security in information sharing and to develop a regional Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) framework.
MDA is the effective understanding of anything associated with the maritime field that could impact the security, economy and environment of the Pacific region. This includes understanding all maritime related activities like infrastructure, people, cargo, vessels and other transportations relating to the sea, ocean and other navigable waterway.
Speaking to Island Sun, FFA’s Director General, James Movick says what they are trying to achieve now is to address information sharing across and within sectors in the region.
“With cross sectorial analysis we are able to get a better picture, more targeted enforcement actions in the law enforcements and security area.”
Mr Movick says though FFA might be exemplary in its efforts to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, in the future, surveillance and monitoring of maritime activities should be on a better coordinated basis and not just on FFA. But he says in order for better coordination to take place, information sharing is a must for regional countries. This is the only way countries can be able to analyse and understand how another country works.
Meanwhile Caroline Scott, Director Pacific Division in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), revealed that the Niue Treaty has been a focus of discussion in the information sharing workshop. The Niue Treaty is an agreement between FFA members about monitoring, control and surveillance of fishing. Ms Scott says the Niue Treaty is an example of how countries can share information for the betterment of the Pacific Ocean.
Niue Treaty includes provisions on exchange of fisheries data and information as well as procedures for cooperation in monitoring, prosecuting and penalising operators of the illegal fishing vessels. Once countries agree to establish a regional MDA, this will be able to better assist individual countries enhance surveillance and security in their own areas as well as for the Pacific region.
The Pacific leaders stressed that information sharing is only for the region and not to be shared externally.
“This is for the region, by the region.”
Paki Ormsby, who is the Policy Director in PIFS, says he is confident and hopeful that insights from the information sharing workshop will contribute a lot to the baseline input for the Biketawa Plus.
“This information sharing workshop is an important development of the Biketawa Plus. It follows the PIFS undertaking of a detailed policy consultation with its members over the past four months and we are looking to build upon that work and work of the information sharing workshop this week to inform the development of the Biketawa Plus for Leaders endorsement in September.”
The PIFS leaders will meet in Nauru this year, where information collected for the Biketawa Plus will be put across for them to consider. Biketawa Plus was proposed to expand and strengthen collective action for regional security due to emerging security threats to the Pacific region. The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat was tasked to initiate consultations on developing this declaration.
Biketawa Plus is an outcome of the 48th PIFS Leaders’ summit held in Samoa in 2017.