Officer Carter Yamaguchi from the Division of Marine Law Enforcement, scans for vessels off the coast of the Republic of Palau during Operation SOLANIA.

The Royal Australian Defence Force conducted a three-day maritime surveillance in Palau’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in support of the Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency’s (FFA) initiative to curb Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing.

The surveillance was part of the Operation Solania of the Australian Defence Force which supported the FFA-run Operation Kuru Kuru that is dubbed to be the largest coordinated maritime surveillance by members of the Pacific Island Forum (PIF).

Two aircrafts of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), the KA-350 King Air and the C-27J Spartan, arrived in Palau on October 14 to embark on the three-day maritime surveillance.

C-27J Spartan Captain Flight Lieutenant Justin Stevens said that this is the first time that such maritime surveillance was conducted by the Royal Australian Defence Force in Palau.

Flight Lieutenant Stevens called the surveillance ‘fairly successful,’ saying that they had also monitored vessel activities in the high seas pocket and had seen some suspected illegal fishing boats operating in the area. This information was recorded by the group who will then forward it to partner agencies who could take action against illegal fishers.

“We sent all the information back, and hopefully the partners that we worked together will be able to prosecute those vessels that we found,” Stevens said.

Stevens added that he believed their presence in Palau’s EEZ helped deter illegal activities in the area as it sent a signal that they are patrolling the seas to stop illegal activities.

RAAF Task Element Flight Lieutenant David Holmes, meanwhile, confirmed that the initiative is part of the work of the Pacific Fusion Centre (PFC)- an organization established by Australia to provide information that are vital to Pacific nations’ response against security threats.

“It is part of Australia’s on-going input in the Pacific and it is going to work with the Pacific partner nations to really help stop any illegal, irregular activity…” Holmes said, adding that the same operation had already been conducted for years in several Pacific nations such as Nauru, Kiribati, and the Marshall Islands.

Prior to their surveillance in Palau, they had also conducted the same activity in Pohnapei and Chuul in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). (Rhealyn C. Pojas)