The Australian Defence Force has been a key player in the fight against illegal fishing in the Pacific region as part of Operation Soliana.
Following on a previous story published through Defence Connect, under the Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency’s (FFA) own Operation Rai Balang, a C-27J Spartan from No. 35 Squadron and B300 King Air from No. 32 Squadron and HMAS Maryborough were deployed to the south-west Pacific to contribute to the multi-national efforts of detecting and deterring illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing activity.
The ADF joined air and naval assets from eight FFA countries along with defence partners from New Zealand, US and France.
Patrols and surveillance of over 14 million square kilometres of ocean led to 108 sightings with 24 vessels boarded.
For Squadron Leader Rob Crawford, the Detachment Commander and C-27J Pilot, collaboration between squadrons and international co-operation made the operation much easier.
"Having established rapport and an understanding of shared capabilities through previous Operation Solania missions, we were able to efficiently undertake complementary maritime patrol profiles to generate high range coverage," SQNLDR Crawford said.
"For the C-27J, this was typically high-level transit to the edge of the Economic Exclusion zone approximately 200 nautical miles out from the sovereign nation, while the B300 King Air patrolled intermediate ranges and closer to shore.
"Working closely with the FFA Air Liaison planner we were able to maximise the efficiency of our search areas. Our visible presence in the area goes a long way to help deter potentially unlawful or criminal vessels."
The patrols fed information back to the FFA.
The agency’s Surveillance Operations Officer, Commander Robert Lewis, said the role Australia played in the operation was vital to its success.
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"The aerial surveillance intelligence captured by Australia was able to be communicated to surface assets in real-time, giving the Pacific island countries a richer picture of their region and enabling them to target identified vessels of interest to ensure they were compliant with relevant legislation," CMDR Lewis said.
The Pacific is an area that comes under a high level of threat from illegal fishing activities. The FFA aims to secure the viability of the fishing industry for nations in the pacific as fish like tuna suffer from over and illegal fishing activities.
Director Fisheries Operations Allan Rahari expressed his thanks for the ADF’s contribution.
"For me as a Solomon Islander, I felt proud that the ADF was supporting us in one of our key priorities to support regional operations and our Pacific island nations," Rahari said.
Air and naval assets involved in Operation Rai Balang included a New Zealand Defence Force P-3 Orion, US Navy P-8 Poseidon, US Coast Guard HC-130, d'Entrecasteaux of the French Navy and the US Coast Guard’s Cutter Sequoia and William Hart.