Royal Australian Air Force personnel in March took part in an operation to deter illegal fishing in the south-west Pacific, and also helped five fishermen who had been lost at sea get home.
CAPTION: A RAAF C-27J Spartan flies over HMAS Maitland off the coast of Honiara, Solomon Islands, during Operation Solania. Story by Major Anna-Lise Brink. Photo by Seaman Isaiah Appleton.
The personnel were deployed to Honiara in the Solomon Islands on Operation Solania, the ADF’s regular contribution to regional security in partnership with Pacific Island nations.
It supports the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) in its coordinated fisheries’ monitoring, control and surveillance operations.
In Operation Rai Balang, the first iteration of Operation Solania for this year, a RAAF C-27J Spartan crew conducted maritime surveillance patrols, while other personnel provided liaison and analytical support to the FFA.
Liaison officer Flight Lieutenant Peter Spearman, who deployed on Operation Solania for the third time, coordinated and tasked Australian, US and New Zealand aircraft to the surveillance missions.
Any sightings of suspected illegal fishing activity were reported to the FFA and the relevant nation to investigate.
Flight Lieutenant Spearman said Australia’s C-27J Spartan crew identified one suspected case of illegal fishing.
“One of the targets they were sent to go and look at was suspected of illegal sea cucumber fishing,” Flight Lieutenant Spearman.
“That information was then passed onto Solomon Islands [authorities] who sent out a patrol boat to conduct a boarding.”
In close partnership with the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu governments, the C-27J Spartan crew also facilitated the safe return of five Solomon Islands’ fishermen who had been lost at sea.
The fishermen had been stranded in Port Vila after coming ashore in northern Vanuatu.
Australian Defence Adviser South-west Pacific Commander Mark Northcote said the operation was a great example of regional cooperation.
“Close cooperation between Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Australia allows us to collectively respond to shared challenges, from humanitarian assistance to regional security,” Commander Northcote said.
Defence Adviser Port Vila Lieutenant Colonel Scott Jamieson emphasised the importance of the strong working relationships across the region.
“Australia is proud to play a small part in returning the fishermen home to their friends and families,” Lieutenant Colonel Jamieson said.
“Despite the challenges of the global pandemic, we continue to work closely together as one Pacific family.”
Operation Rai Balang involved 12 nations, six surveillance aircraft and 11 ships, including HMAS Maitland, and 13.3 million square-kilometres of the Pacific was monitored with 349 vessel sightings reported and 30 vessels boarded.
FFA Director-General Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen said the operation was a great example of the power of a united effort.
“Working collaboratively to protect the income generated by our oceanic fisheries means protecting the incomes, jobs and livelihoods of many Pacific people,” Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen said.
“The strength of our cooperation has ensured this operation was a success.”
ADF Chief of Joint Operations Lieutenant General Greg Bilton said the ADF was proud to take part in the operation.
“The ADF is committed to working with our Pacific partners to combat the threat of illegal exploitation of fisheries poses in the exclusive economic zones of our south-west Pacific neighbours,” Lieutenant General Bilton said.