The Australia Defence Force is working closely with the Pacific nation of Palau to enable it to patrol its vast territorial waters and protect vital fisheries from poaching.
Australia has a 25-year strong security partnership with Palau, dating back to the handover of the Pacific-class patrol boat PSS President HI Remeliik in 1996. Since that time the two nations have worked together in the spirit of regional stability, economic prosperity, and safe and lawful oceans.
Defence support to Palau is provided through the Defence Cooperation and Pacific Maritime Security Programs.
Royal Australian Navy personnel Lieutenant Commander Neil Krauklis and Chief Petty Officer Bradley Graham are posted to Palau in support of these enduring programs.
Both work closely with Palau national government departments in key areas such as aerial surveillance, training and infrastructure improvements.
Lieutenant Commander Krauklis said the first 12 months of his time in Palau had been busy.
“The arrival in 2020 of the new Guardian-class patrol boat PSS President HI Remeliik II has increased our surveillance capability and days at sea,” Lieutenant Commander Krauklis said.
“This has seen Palau establish a Joint Maritime Operations Centre with the aim to become the lead for all maritime coordination activities within Palau.”
Lieutenant Commander Krauklis was proud of the efforts of the Remeliik II team, who often travel to Australia for specialist training.
“Palau has recently identified its first female crew member, who is currently in Australia conducting junior officer and navigation training at TAFE Queensland,” Lieutenant Commander Krauklis said.
Remeliik II recently participated in Operation Rai Balang, a Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency multi-nation operation focused on gathering, analysing and interpreting surveillance data and sharing it with other Pacific nations.
Remeliik II's executive officer Carter Yamaguchi said Operation Rai Balang was key to protecting local fish stocks, which are vital to Palau’s economy.
“It’s important to conduct these patrols to protect the marine sanctuary, which is 80 per cent of our exclusive economic zone,” Mr Yamaguchi said.
“The sea is very important for our livelihood, it’s the people of Palau's main food source.
“Operation Rai Balang is very important because it consists of other nations that we cooperate together, conduct surveillance and share information.
“That way we are able to communicate to enhance our capabilities and strategies as far as protecting our exclusive economic zone.”
A Royal Australian Air Force C-27J Spartan aircraft also assisted Palau during Operation Rai Balang, providing aerial surveillance as part of the Australian Defence Force training activity Operation Solania.
“Palau has a population of 18,000 people and it is heavily reliant on fishing and tourism,” Lieutenant Commander Krauklis said.
“COVID-19 essentially stopped all international flights and the flow-on effect to Palau has been that many local businesses have shut.
“With supply lines for reprovisioning also reduced, taking care of the region's fisheries is an important task.
“Spending time at sea conducting surveillance patrols on-board Remeliik II is the best part of my role as maritime surveillance adviser.”