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On Friday the Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) closes the two-week fisheries surveillance activity, Operation Rai Balang 2020.
The operation is unprecedented in achieving maritime surveillance across 14.1million 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.”
There were 24 boardings conducted during Op Rai Balang, both at sea and in harbour. “Twenty-four boardings is a real impact considering the current COVID-19 situation; obviously each crew considered national guidelines to ensure their safety and avoid any potential coronavirus transmission,” said CMDR Lewis.
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.
Director General, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen underlined the regional coordination demonstrated during Op Rai Balang.
“At the outset, we sincerely thank all of those who participated to ensure the success of this operation during these challenging times. In the Pacific, we know that together we are stronger. The extraordinary circumstances for Op Rai Balang presented a unique way to demonstrate our collective commitment to protecting our valuable fisheries resources and confirming that any challenge can be overcome through Cooperation. The FFA is proud to continue to assist our member States in this way.”
Op Rai Balang is one of four targeted operations hosted by the FFA annually, however regional surveillance is supported 365 days a year through the RFSC Regional Surveillance picture.
Pacific Islands News Association
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