‘Suspicious’ fishing vessels spotted in Solomon Islands waters

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Suspicious fishing vessels
Operation Kurukuru ... intelligence gathered on "suspicious fishing vessels" handed over to the FFA for further investigation. Image: Island Sun

By Priestley Habru in Honiara

A Pacific-wide maritime surveillance operation this week discovered a few suspicious foreign vessels in Solomon waters.

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 were a few suspicious vessels spotted during the previous 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 that Flight Lieutenant Willersdorf and his crew had made within Solomon Islands waters since this operation – known as Operation Kurukuru – began in mid-October.

A few local journalists were invited on board the flight last Tuesday which flew over the Indispensable Reefs, an uninhabited coral reef located about 50 km south of Rennell Island.

The six-hour surveillance flight was able to sight five fishing vessels which were all photographed and recorded as standard procedure.

Photographing fishing vessels
Flight Lieutenant Willersdorf said that what his team members normally do in a day was to photograph 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 said.

Flight Lieutenant Willersdorf said Australia was 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.

Flight Lieutenant Willersdorf
Flight Lieutenant Andrew Willersdorf … air surveillance by six aircraft. Image: Island Sun

He said the Australian Defence Force was 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, US plus France have been providing air surveillance under the Kurukuru Operation 2020 for FFA member countries including Solomon Islands.

The air surveillance by six aircraft was also conducting trials using satellites and emerging technologies.

In the sea, there were 12 Guardian class patrol boats from Pacific nations operating alongside five French Navy and US Coastguard vessels.

Operation Kurukuru 2020 has now ended.

The Pacific Media Centre republishes Island Sun articles with permission.

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