Australian Minister for Veteran Affairs Matt Keogh Friday handed over a Guardian class patrol boat to its Pacific neighbour and friend, the Cook Islands.
Keogh said the handover speaks to the deep and abiding friendship between thetwo nations.
“And it demonstrates our shared commitment to a free and open Pacific region.
“Today, we confront common threats to our collective security:
“Of these, first and foremost, is climate change, the existential threat to our region.
“We also confront Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing…Narcotics trafficking, people smuggling and transnational crime.
And the continuing impacts of COVID-19,” he said.
As a signatory to the Boe Declaration on Regional Security – and a strong supporter of the Framework for Pacific Regionalism – Australia believes that close and collaborative action is essential if we are to effectively counter our shared security challenges.
“This Guardian class patrol boat will replace the Pacific class patrol boat Te Kukupa.
“That vessel was gifted by Australia to the Cook Islands 33 years ago – under the leadership of Prime Minister Bob Hawke – as part of the Defence Cooperation Programme.
“I understand it served the Cook Islands well, as your sailors navigated your vast exclusive economic zone.
Vitally, they successfully delivered COVID-19 vaccines to remote islands in your north when your people needed them the most,” he said.
Keogh said the crew of the Te Kukupa can be proud of their exemplary service to the people of the Cook Islands and the Pacific region.
“That service is a wonderful legacy to Te Kukupa II,” the Veteran Affairs Minister said.
He said the Guardian class are larger and faster ships, supporting more effective humanitarian and disaster relief operations.
“They have a greater range and operational capability, enabling longer patrols.
“They can carry more crew, with better accommodation …And they are equipped with advanced satellite communications systems.
“I have received many reports about the effectiveness of the Guardian Class in the Pacific.
“For example, Tonga’s Armed Forces used their vessel to support rescue and evacuation operations in the wake of the devastating volcanic eruption and tsunami that affected our Pacific friend in January.
The enhanced capability of this boat will help protect the incredible marine biodiversity of Cook Islands waters – already vulnerable to climate change – from the damage inflicted by illegal fishers,” Keogh said.
Australia accepts our responsibility to work in partnership with our Pacific family to combat climate change and protect the oceanscape for future generations, he said.
He also announced that Australia will fund upgrades to the Cook Islands’ Maritime Surveillance Centre in Rarotonga.
“This investment of more than $1.6 million (US$1.1 million) will help upgrade the centre’s electronic equipment and amenities, and better supporting the crew and operational activities of your new Guardian class patrol boat.
“With today’s handover to the Cook Islands, Australia is proud to have now delivered fifteen Guardian Class vessels to our partners across the Pacific and Timor Leste.
“The friendship between the people of Australia and the Cook Islands is as strong as the steel in this ship.
“We share a commitment to safeguard our Blue Pacific home and take real action on climate change.
“We share a determination to counter maritime threats.
And we share a desire to work together to protect our national sovereignty and promote the prosperity of the people who call our region home,” he said.