Trained eyes scan the big blue

The mission of those deployed on Operation Solania could be compared to looking for a needle in a haystack.

CAPTIONLoadmaster Corporal Mitchell Hordern of 35 Squadron photographs vessels out of a RAAF C-27J Spartan during Operation Solania. Story by Captain Peter Nugent. Photos by Leading Aircraftwoman Maddison Scott.

In support of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), Australian Defence Force (ADF) assets and personnel scoured the vast Pacific Ocean surrounding the Solomon Islands, in search of illegal fishing boats and other law-breakers.

Across ten missions, a RAAF C-27J Spartan and crew detected 41 suspicious vessels spread over 90,000 square kilometres of ocean, during the FFA’s Operation Kuru Kuru.

35 Squadron Head Pilot, Flight Lieutenant James Badun, said his plane and crew are well suited to the demanding role.

CAPTION: A RAAF C-27J Spartan prepares for take-off from Honiara International Airport for a surveillance flight during Operation Solania, Solomon Islands.

“The C-27J is the ideal aircraft to conduct this type of tasking because it is small enough to be manoeuvrable around vessels at low level while still being able to loiter for a long time,” Flight Lieutenant Bendun said.

“The aircraft systems also have the capability for us to locate vessels beyond visual range.”

This is the fourth occasion this year that the ADF has contributed to FFA operations with maritime surveillance, under Operation Solania.

This time, as part of Operation Kuru Kuru, the ADF partnered with 14 other nations to enhance maritime security and promote sustainable fisheries management across the Pacific.

The 15 nations involved were the Cook Islands, Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, alongside assets and personnel from the Pacific Quadrilateral Defence Coordination Group: Australia, France, New Zealand and the United States.

“It’s a very rewarding task for us to undertake with our Pacific neighbours, who are always very welcoming,” Flight Lieutenant Bendun added.

During their mission, the crew also supported aerial damage assessments at the request of the Government of Vanuatu after Tropical Cyclone Lola made landfall.


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