BY PRIESTLEY HABRU
A Pacific wide maritime surveillance operation has discovered a few suspicious foreign vessels in Solomon waters as of early this week.
The Pacific Islands Forum Agency (FFA) coordinates the surveillance operation with the Royal Australia Air Force (RAAF) supporting with one C-27J Spartan aircraft operating out of Solomon Islands.
After one of C-27J’s surveillance flights to the southern and western Exclusive Economic Zones of Solomon Islands on Tuesday, Flight Lieutenant Andrew Willersdorf said there are a few suspicious vessels spotted so far in the last eight to nine days.
“Potentially there are a couple of suspicious vessels, which have been forwarded to FFA, so they would investigate further,” he said.
Tuesday’s surveillance flight was the eighth Flight Lieutenant Willersdorf and his crew had made within Solomon Islands waters since this operation – known as ‘Operation Kurukuru’ began two weeks ago.
A few local journalists were invited onboard the Tuesday’s flight which flew over the Indispensable Reefs, an uninhabited coral reef located about 50 kilometres south of Rennell Island.
The six-hour surveillance flight was able to sight five fishing vessels which were all photographed and recorded as standard procedures during such operations.
Flight Lieutenant Willersdorf said what his team members normally do in a day is to take photograph of fishing vessels and gather intelligence which would then be taken back to FFA.
“FFA will then analyse those pictures along with the information we provided such as location, time and any activity that is happening on the boat at that time and they will make investigations further on that if they see any illegal activity or any unregulated fishing.
“It’s all part of a big effort for broader Pacific islands nations including Solomon Islands and working together to make sure that the EEZ are respected and that fishing is regulated to ensure sustainability for the future for the Solomon Islands and other Pacific islands nations,” he added.
Flight Lieutenant Willersdorf said Australia is proud to be able to assist in this operation and he thanked the FFA and Solomon Islands for hosting them for this period of the operation.
He reiterated that the Australian Defence Force is also happy to help with Operation Kurukuru.
Apart from the RAAF’s C-27J Spartan aircraft under Flight Lieutenant Willersdorf’s command, five other aircraft from the FFA and Quadrilateral regional partners of Australia, New Zealand, USA plus France are providing air surveillance under the Kurukuru Operation 2020 for FFA member countries including Solomon Islands.
The air surveillance by a total of six aircrafts are also conducting trials using satellites and other emerging technologies.
In the sea there are 12 Guardian Class and Pacific Patrol Boats from Pacific nations operating alongside five French Navy and United States Coastguard vessels.
The aim of Operation Kurukuru is to detect, deter, report or apprehend potential Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing activity and build capacity of national surveillance initiatives through support and mentoring from the Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre at FFA.
Operation Kurukuru 2020 ends tomorrow.