The Australian Defence Force has played a key role in the fight against illegal fishing in the Pacific through Operation Solania.
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 deployed to the South West Pacific to contribute to the multi-national efforts of detecting and deterring illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing activity.
The ADF joined air and naval assets from eight FFA countries along with defence partners from New Zealand, United States 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 the mission was made easier by the collaboration between squadrons and multi-national agencies.
"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," Squadron Leader 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."
Intelligence gathered from patrols was fed back directly to the FFA.
The agency’s Surveillance Operations Officer is Commander Robert Lewis. He said the role Australia played in the operation was vital to its success.
"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," Commander Lewis said.
The FFA has a goal to empower all people from the Pacific Islands, to maximise the economic benefits from their tuna fisheries resources. It’s an area that comes under significant threat with IUU fishing activity.
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," Mr Rahari said.
Air and naval assets involved in Operation Rai Balang included a United States Navy P-8 Poseidon, a United States Coast Guard HC-130, D'entrecasteaux of the French Navy and the United States Coast Guard’s cutter Sequoia.