The Cook Islands flagged cargo vessel M.T Hai Soon 61. (PHOTO: Alexander Demin via marinetraffic.com) 21071645
Officials are keeping a close watch on the nation’s borders as marine traffic picks up within the Cook Islands exclusive economic zone.
An increasing amount of merchant vessels and pleasure
craft in Cook Islands waters have been recorded by local authorities recently.
An official with the Ministry of Marine Resources,
which monitors marine traffic and in particular the activities of fishing
vessels within the Cook Islands exclusive economic zone, told Cook Islands News
about the increase in the number of non-fishing vessels seen recently in local
The official acknowledged the issue is a particular
area of interest with regards to maritime border security management and
managing Covid-19 risks. The ministry has been providing information on the
matter to relevant government agencies.
On Monday July 12, a Cook Islands-flagged cargo vessel
named M.T Hai Soon 61 anchored off Rarotonga’s reef while awaiting to be
restocked with food and water.
The vessel, which was running low on provisions,
requested and was granted an exemption from existing Covid-19 maritime border
regulations to enter Cook Islands territorial waters, which are the immediate
areas surrounding each island within the EEZ.
Te Marae Ora Ministry of Health spokesperson Jaewynn
McKay said: “These provisions were placed on pallets and transferred at sea,
being hoisted aboard using the vessel’s crane.”
“There was no physical contact with any of the 19 crew
Upon departing from Rarotonga, the M.T Hai Soon 61 –
which is described by website marinetraffic.com as an oil products tanker – set
sail for Honolulu.
According to the government, the maritime border is
closed to all vessels except those that have exemptions approved by the
Ministry of Transport under section 6 of the Covid-19 (Maritime Border)
According to information requested from the Ministry
of Transportation and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management’s Customs
office, despite closed borders “any craft may sail in transit across Cook
Islands waters, but cannot land or anchor, nor can it come into contact with a
Cook Islands domestic vessel or craft”.
To date, no permission has been given to any craft to
allow crew or passengers to disembark in the Cook Islands since the maritime
border was closed due to the pandemic, government said.
“A robust formal and informal information and
communications network exists around the Cook Islands which provides Border
Agencies with a good understanding of what craft are in Cook Islands waters at
any one time,” the ministries said in a joint statement sent to Cook Islands News.
According to government, several craft with human or
equipment emergencies have been granted border exemptions while resolving their
“A very small number of craft transiting Cook Islands
waters have also briefly stopped at Suwarrow due to issues they were having
onboard; once rectified they continued on their way.”
These craft were monitored by National Environment
Service rangers stationed on the island.
“All border facing agencies are working
collaboratively to ensure that all craft moving across Cook Islands waters
comply with our laws.”
In May, a yacht was granted approval to cross the
maritime border and shelter just off the Arutanga passage in Aitutaki while
The yacht, named ‘Captain Nemo’, had earlier made a
distress call to local authorities.
Earlier that month, authorities came to the aid of
another vessel, the “SV Del Mar”.
“Whilst Cook Islands Maritime borders remain closed,
under International law, countries are obligated to render assistance to
vessels in distress,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration said in a
statement at the time.
Between December 2020 and May 2021, Cook Islands
authorities received six maritime requests for entry, which were all declined.