Palau’s new Guardian-class patrol boat, the PSS Remeliik II, made its first catch when it intercepted a Chinese vessel off of Helen Reef yesterday morning.
The Remeliik II, which was officially handed over to Lieutenant Commander Emerson Nobuo for command last Friday, responded to reports Wednesday morning from PAN Rangers in Hatohobei State of a foreign vessel in the ocean near Helen Reef.
The vessel, an 80-foot ship carrying around 30 personnel, was reportedly found to be the “Zhang”, a Chinese-owned vessel suspected of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, according to reliable sources. The ship had no clearance to be in Palau’s territorial waters.
The Remeliik II reportedly set sail out of Malakal on Wednesday and intercepted the “Zhang” early Thursday morning, assisted by aerial support.
The detainment makes this the Remeliik II’s first maritime law enforcement patrol since it arrived in Palau this October.
However, the Division of Marine Law Enforcement says that this catch has also presented a unique challenge for Palau.
Normally, the illegal vessel would be boarded and escorted to Koror. However, with COVID still prevalent in many countries around the globe and still absent from Palau, boarding a foreign vessel carries the risk of spreading the virus to Palauan nationals, as does bringing the vessel into port. With an executive order denying entry of any unauthorized vessels into Palau, Director Victor Remengesau of the Bureau of Maritime Security & Fish and Wildlife Protection has said that authorities are still determining how to proceed with disciplinary actions against the “Zhang”.
While the foreign vessel is unlikely to enter Koror due to border restrictions, the Remeliik is expected to return today.
The COVID pandemic has also caused a delay in the yearly maritime patrols for the Remeliik, which would normally include joint-surveillance patrol operations with regional partners like the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), and would involve stopping and checking on all vessels in Palau’s EEZ. However, according to Commander Nobuo, the 19-man crew of the Remeliik is restricted from boarding vessels which could be carrying COVID.
The Remeliik II, which was donated by the Australian Government to replace its predecessor, the PSS Remeliik I, which retired from service this past July, has been described as a “younger, stronger, faster, more modern, and sophisticated state-of-the-art patrol boat” by Vice President Raynold Oilouch. The vessel can sail up to speeds of 25 knots, is 39.5 meters long, and is electronically-controlled.