Print this page

Puna previews region’s ‘eye in the sky’

Saturday September 08, 2018 Written by Published in Politics
Prime minister Henry Puna with Australian Foreign Affairs minister Marise Payne and Senator Anne Rushton. 18090530 Prime minister Henry Puna with Australian Foreign Affairs minister Marise Payne and Senator Anne Rushton. 18090530

Cook Islands prime minister Henry Puna and Foreign Affairs minister Marise Payne took to the Yaren international airport tarmac to provide the closing side event of the Nauru Leaders Forum.

Just an hour before heading to board her flight to Australia, both leaders and Australia's new assistant minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator Anne Ruston, took in an on-board preview of the Forum Fisheries Agency surveillance aircraft.

The aircraft was in Nauru as part of an “Operation Frigate Bird” joint surveillance operation with Kiribati's Teanoai patrol boat asset, a soon-to-beretired part of Australia's initial Pacific patrol boat programme.

New patrol vessels with expanded facilities are being rolled out across the region, with the two aircraft run by civilian contractors, led by the Forum Fisheries Pacific maritime surveillance project, funded by Australia.

"It's extremely important," Puna told journalists at the launch. He spoke of Australia's support for Pacific surveillance efforts, which have ramped up relations between police and fisheries staff in Pacific nations to provide the maritime surveillance resources which lead regional, subregional and national surveillance missions against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

"What they started through the Pacific patrol boats has proven to us that without air surveillance, the patrol boats can be limited in what they can achieve. Having this (the aerial surveillance) in conjunction with the patrol boats will just go a long way towards giving the Small Islands States of the pacific that better capability to monitor our oceans."

Originally aimed at fisheries surveillance, the aircraft are now part of a broader law enforcement mandate to watch over the ocean highways against drug and people smugglers.

"These are becoming an issue in the region now, and we need to have the ability to manage those," Puna said.