The sixth South West Pacific Heads of Maritime Forces meeting held in Apia last week was hailed a success, with the participants agreeing on better protection and security the Blue Pacific continent.

The high-level regional forum highlighted the significance of cooperations and forging established relationships within the region.

In an exclusive interview with Samoa Observer newspaper last week at the conclusion of the two-day high-level discussions, the heads of maritime and navy forces within the region all agreed that the meeting offered the opportunity to strengthen ties amongst the region.

The meeting in Apia was also the first time Australia’s Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Mark Hammond attended the meet since its inception.

“This is the first time a Chief of Australia’s Navy is participating in this meeting,” said Vice Admiral Hammond.

“I normally engage predominantly with other navies, but this forum provided the opportunity for me to engage with police forces within the region who are responsible for law enforcement, that our navy supports.

“International border closures because of the widespread of COVID-19 stopped us from meeting face-to-face which is vital in building relationships and networks; something you cannot do through a tv screen.

“I strongly believe that coming together and meeting face-to-face is vital to earn trust and to build long-term relationships so we can understand what is needed and where we can assist our Pacific Island countries in terms of maritime security.

“There is strength in unity, so coming together and being in Samoa for this forum really helped us have a fair understanding of the challenges and concerns that threatens the peace and stability of our Blue Pacific. We also discussed ways in which can assist one another in case of disaster relief activities, emergency operations and rescues.

“It is very important to work collectively as the nations within this forum represents about 43 percent of the world’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and I don’t think there’s another forum that can claim such a magnitude of responsibility in that respect.”

The U.S Coast Guard was represented by the District Commander, Rear Admiral Michael H. Day who is responsible for directing U.S Coast Guard operations throughout Oceania, including Hawaii, Guam, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, and activities in Singapore and Japan.

Rear Admiral Day described maritime security as a “muscle”.

“Perhaps it atrophied for not being used as much as it had in the past,” he said. However, re-emhpasising forged agreements and strategies as well as constantly following up on some of the new strategies to strengthening maritime security is very important according to District Commander Day.

“I gained better understanding of some of the challenges in the region. I think there’s a tendency, sometimes, for us in the United States, to tell you what we can give you as oppose to listening to what you need and there’s a difference in that.

“So the value of individual conversations and hearing what is needed and taking that back, sympathising that for betterment area, is very powerful and important. So this meeting has been a fruitful one and we commend the host nation for the warm hospitality.

The Commandant de la Zone for New Caledonia’s Maritime, Denis Camelin also shared similar sentiments.

He also highlighted the importance of cooperation and getting to know what each Pacific island country needs to boost their maritime security.

He noted that their EE. is safe with the help of their cooperation with France, therefore, he said they are keen to dedicate more resources and assets they have to support neighbouring countries and to protect the maritime within the Blue Pacific.

The Pacific Island Forum Secretariat also had a representative who participated in the meeting as an observer to report back to the leaders on some of the discussions held during the meeting so they can support the visions and actions initiated during the high-level regional discussion.