Yesterday morning Cook Islands Police Commissioner Maara Tetava, paid tribute to local and visiting police and navy personnel at the start of month-long training exercise “Ika Moana.”
Speaking at a ceremony at Avatiu wharf, Tetava said service personnel involved were following in the footsteps of their ancestors in protecting the surrounding waters of their individual Pacific states.
“The only difference in what you are doing, compared to our ancestors today, is that you are doing your work in an air conditioned vessel with three meals a day,” he said.
“Enforcing the borders of our country from those intent on forcing harm on our country to our Moana Nui O Kiva (Pacific Ocean), and to our people, I need not spell out the importance of the work that you do.
“Your commitment, your sacrifice, your desire, courage in doing what you do, for the peace of Pacific states is commendable.
“We salute each and everyone one of you for what you do. It is not an easy job.
“Last year, all of us, these three boats and most of the crew, we sailed to New Zealand to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the New Zealand Navy. I challenged myself on that voyage, and I got to go through what you go through day in and day out, on the Moana Nui O Kiva.”
The commander and head of operations for Cook Islands police patrol boat Te Kukupa, Stu Henry, said: “we want to put pressure on those fishing in our waters and ensure they are following their licence requirements.”
He predicted most of the vessels encountered by the patrol boats would be from China and Taiwan.
Now in its fifth year, the joint maritime surveillance programme has been successful in both terms of its achievements and as a demonstration of the value of regional partnerships.
This year is the largest Pacific-led exercise involving more than 100 personnel from Tonga, the Cook Islands and Samoa, New Zealand and Australia.
The exercise will also include Kiribati and Niue. There will also be some military enforcement presence from “Quad” partners, Australia, New Zealand, France and the US.
The exercise involves Cook Islands Police patrol boat Te Kukupa, Samoan Patrol boat Nafanua and Tongan vessels Voea Late and Pangai.
Last year the operation focused on the Northern Cook Islands Exclusive Economic Zone and the Penrhyn Atoll; a remote, scarcely populated area that sees a high concentration of foreign-flagged fishing vessels, but infrequent policing.
In that exercise the joint task force conducted 32 boardings and reported many sightings. The boardings often involved fishing vessels known to have committed violations of fishing rules in the past.
A number of violations were detected and the vessels concerned were ordered to leave the Cook Island Exclusive Economic Zone.
The patrol boats will leave Avatiu on Thursday morning, and will complete a sail past of Avarua’s foreshore before heading out to sea.