The New Zealand aid programme recently finished equipping fishermen in Niue and Kiribati with electronic locator beacons.
"While we got off to a slow start, it was hard to get good engagement, but now I think we are making real progress. Both with the regulators and with the communities and the fishermen that we're working with," says the New Zealand Aid Programme's David Weinstein.
Maritime Cook Islands chief executive officer Glenn Armstrong says “a number” of emergency position-indicating radio beacon stations (EPIRBS) have been activated in Cook Islands waters over the last five years.
“Certainly there have been a couple of yachts that have got into difficulty in the Cook Islands zone that have been rescued,” says Armstrong.
“New Zealand Rescue Coordination Centre call us for identification of the vessel. Most of these turn out to be false alarms and no search and rescue is carried out.
“We have lost a few vessels on various reefs – but no one has died or even been seriously injured.”
Latest figures from the New Zealand defence force show their aircraft spent over 200 hours searching the Pacific Ocean for fishing boats and other vessels between 2015 and 2016. Armstrong says EPIRBS help to locate people in distress and reduce the time and effort required to locate and assist people.
“If there were an incident away from Rarotonga, it could quickly develop into a major problem,” says Armstrong.
“There is a very big ocean and very few resources available to go and find and rescue people if they get into trouble.
The Royal New Zealand Air Force are the first responders and they have about a six-hour flight just to get to Rarotonga to refuel before they can begin their search.”
It was also announced earlier this month that the Cook Islands will receive more than 200 donated lifejackets, courtesy of Coastguard New Zealand’s Old4New Lifejacket Upgrade campaign.
Armstrong says the programme will ensure local boats, especially those operated by “artisanal” fishermen, will have access to proper life-saving equipment such as life jackets, life rafts, EPIRBS, and radios. He says this will ensure they can contact people on land and also other vessels at sea.
Most importantly, search and rescue teams will be able to quickly identify the vessel’s location.