The announcement was made earlier this week through a joint press release issued by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Defence Minister David Johnston.
According to the Australian government, discussions will be held with partner nations on the individual allocation of patrol vessels in the coming months. This will include details on expected delivery times and what happens to Te Kukupa in the meantime.
The revamped programme has the potential to significantly strengthen security and surveillance in the region, Minister Johnston said in a media release.
“The Pacific Patrol Boat Programme is an important pillar of the Australian Government’s commitment to working with our regional partners to enable cohesive security cooperation on maritime surveillance, including in fisheries protection and transnational crime,” he said.
Te Kukupa – the nation’s current and only patrol boat - was gifted under the same programme by the Australian government in 1989.
The vessel was scheduled to undergo a major refit this year, including a survey of the hull and a full rebuild of the main engine and generators.
Earlier this year, Te Kukupa suffered mechanical problems during a maritime surveillance operation that eventually resulted in police finding eight kilograms of shark fin aboard a Chinese-flagged longliner.
At the time, officials said the problems played a role in allowing the vessel to proceed through the nation’s waters without being towed into port and being charged.
In addition to the Cook Islands, Australian will also be replacing the current fleet of patrol boats of Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Samoa, Vanuatu, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Republic of Marshall Islands, and new programme member Timor-Leste.
“The current fleet of 22 patrol boats gifted to 12 Pacific Island countries from 1987 to 1997 are now approaching their end of service life,” said Johnston.
“This new programme will involve the construction of more than 20 steel, all purpose patrol vessels that will considerably enhance the maritime security of our Pacific and regional partners ... Australia has a fundamental strategic interest in the security and stability of Pacific island nations.”
Johnston said the Australian-made patrol boats are worth $641 million, with “through life sustainment and personnel costs” estimated at roughly $1.5 billion over 30 years.