By then, 14 new vessels are scheduled to have been completed for handover to the Pacific countries under the Australia Government’s Pacific Patrol Boat Replacement (PPB-R) Program.
The Replacement Program is valued at AU$335 million for 21 Guardian-class boats to be gifted to 13 countries – the 12 Pacific Island nations and East Timor. Four are now under construction.
Cook Islands police spokesman Trevor Pitt says while the monetary value of the vessels may be quantifiable, the sovereign security of the region is not.
“The 1989 handover of Te Kukupa has had an immeasurable impact on securing the country’s maritime resources. The deterrent factor alone in monitoring and controlling illegal fishing activities has been of major significance since then.”
Police Commissioner Maara Tetava, who recently paid a visit to the Perth shipbuilders Austal, says the Cook Islands Police Service has placed “considerable value” on its relationship with Australia over the years and has made maintaining the capabilities of the Police Maritime Division a high priority.
“As a result, Te Kukupa has had an outstanding record and reputation with the Australian Defence Force and the boat’s ongoing maintenance program over nearly 30 years,” Pitt said.
The Maritime Division’s capacity for security and surveillance will be strengthened by the new class of vessel, which has an entirely new design. Austal has already launched the first of the steel-hulled, 39.5m boats. It is destined for Papua New Guinea and presently undergoing sea trials. The new patrol boats are on track to be progressively handed over every three months, from late 2018 until 2023.
Commissioner Tetava had the opportunity to visit the shipbuilders at the invitation of the ADF and was accompanied on the tour by Australia Defence Adviser Captain Christine Clarke, who visited Rarotonga about two months ago.
The patrol boat replacement programme is an extension of existing cooperation with the region and part of Australia’s initiatives under the Pacific Maritime Security Program. The partnerships between Australia and the Pacific states is at the core of a shared strategic interest for a secure and stable region.
Australia’s commitment also includes the increased aerial surveillance support for maritime security, which was announced earlier this year and welcomed by the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting in Nauru, recently.
Australia anticipates providing up to 1,400 hours of aerial surveillance each year across the Central and Western Pacific through two dedicated long-range aircraft based in the region. The surveillance, in conjunction with the patrol boat programme, will provide targeted maritime patrolling and enhance the ability of Pacific Island Countries to defend against regional maritime security threats such as illegal fishing and transnational crime.
Before the delivery of the new patrol boat for the Cook Islands, Australia plans to establish a new regional facility to boost maritime security. By mid-2019, the Pacific Fusion Centre will provide strategic analysis of information for “maritime domain awareness” and security alerts and advice for regional security agencies.
This hub is being designed to combine information from multiple sources to better identify and respond to security threats, particularly illegal fishing, narcotics trafficking and people-smuggling. - Release/CS