Australian Defence Force (ADF) has assisted regional partners in detecting and deterring illegal fishing activity in the Pacific during the latest iteration of Operation Solania. The Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Wollongong worked with the Papua New Guinea Defence Force’s (PNGDF) HMPNGS Rochus Lokinap to conduct maritime surveillance in the Exclusive Economic Zone of PNG during the two-week operation.

ADF members also provided support (remotely due to COVID-19) to the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) with intelligence gathering and analysis to assist the surveillance activities of nations participating in the FFA’s Operation KuruKuru. Operation Solania is the ADF’s contribution to maritime surveillance within the Pacific region and supports the FFA’s annual operations KuruKuru, Island Chief, Tui Moana and Rai Balang to detect and deter illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing activity. Operation KuruKuru is the FFA’s largest annual maritime surveillance operation covering around 21.3 million square kilometres of the 15 Pacific Island member states’ exclusive economic zones.

Commander of the ADF’s Deployable Joint Force Headquarters Major General Jake Ellwood said the operation was a vital multi-national effort. “Protecting fisheries is critical for the livelihoods, employment and economic prosperity of our Pacific neighbours, and we are proud to be working alongside the FFA, our Pacific Partners and members of the Quadrilateral Defence Coordination Group to help secure and protect this vital resource,” Ellwood said. “Together we are tackling shared maritime security challenges, including transnational crime, border security and illegal fishing. Maritime security is important for all of us and we remain committed to working with our Pacific partners to maintain a secure, prosperous and stable region.”

During Operation KuruKuru, HMAS Wollongong sailed approximately 5600 kilometres, patrolling the high seas and PNG’s Exclusion Economic Zone with two PNGDF sailors on board.

Commanding Officer of HMAS Wollongong Lieutenant Commander Sean Dalton said his crew was proud to partner with their PNGDF counterparts on the operation. “Having two senior sailors from the PNGDF embarked for our patrols has greatly enhanced Wollongong’s surveillance capability throughout this patrol,” Dalton said. “Their local knowledge assisted Wollongong in identifying behaviour that lies outside of normal patterns in the PNG Exclusive Economic Zone.”

The deployment of the PNGDF sailors also offered them the opportunity to observe and participate in Wollongong’s training program. “Their experience here will be highly valuable in their training of the future crews of the PNGDF’s Guardian-class Patrol Boats,” Dalton said.

The PNGDF received its third Guardian-class Patrol Boat, HMPNGS Francis Agwi, in late October.

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