Role of advisers key to success in the region

Published on SGT Dave Morley (author and photographer)

Topic(s): Operations, Illegal Fishing

Honiara-based Forum Fisheries Agency Surveillance Operations Officer Commander Gavin Baker and Federated States of Melanesia-based Technical Adviser Chief Petty Officer Chris O'Keefe were among Navy members based across the Pacific who attended a five-day conference in Canberra from 21-25 November, 2016. (photo: SGT Dave Morley)
Honiara-based Forum Fisheries Agency Surveillance Operations Officer Commander Gavin Baker and Federated States of Melanesia-based Technical Adviser Chief Petty Officer Chris O'Keefe were among Navy members based across the Pacific who attended a five-day conference in Canberra from 21-25 November, 2016.

Junior officers and chief petty officers looking for a rewarding challenge are encouraged to consider a role as a Technical Adviser or Maritime Surveillance Adviser in the Pacific.

Honiara-based Forum Fisheries Agency Surveillance Operations Officer for the past two years, Commander Gavin Baker, said the influence the Maritime Surveillance Advisers and Technical Advisers had, and the capacity to make a difference, was far greater than they would have in an equivalent position in Australia.

“In some countries around the Pacific, the Maritime Surveillance Advisers and Technical Advisers are sometimes the only Australian representatives there, and their capacity – and their profile because of that – is enormous,” Commander Baker said.

“They have an ability to influence those nations in ways far beyond what they would have at home in a similar position.

“The biggest take-home from this whole system we have up and running is it’s a vital part of the region’s capacity to look after itself,” he said.

Commander Baker said the tuna fisheries were essential to the whole region.

“Some countries are totally dependent on the income from the fisheries licencing fees,” he said

“They are also incredibly dependent on the food the tuna fishing provides and, if that were to fail, the implications both regionally and globally would be enormous.

“The relatively small number of people and the amount of money we apply magnifies the influence Australia has in ensuring this enormous global resource.”

Commander Baker said his role was to plan and coordinate operations across the entire Pacific.

“We plan four operations a year involving various Forum Fisheries Agency members among the Pacific island countries.

“This culminates each year in Operation KURU KURU, which involves all the Pacific Island nations, supported by all the Quad Partners – the United States, France, Australia and New Zealand,” he said. 

Commander Baker said this year there had been a lot of opportunities to get out into the region to interdict illegal fishing operations.

“We’re moving forward with broadening the capacity of the Forum Fisheries Agency and the Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre in Honiara.

“This will provide the member nations with a good situational awareness of what’s going on in their zones so they can take action in their sovereign rights to support their Exclusive Economic Zones,” he said.

“We’re moving forward in a number of areas to increase the capacity of member nations.

“One of the specific examples is coming up in the next week or so with Melanesia to try to work out whether we can use satellite surveillance, both radar and optical satellites, to detect illegal Vietnamese ‘blue boats’,” he said.

Commander Baker said the ‘blue boats’ were becoming a recognised regional problem

“We’re seeing these relatively small wooden fishing boats coming out of Vietnam primarily targeting coastal fisheries,” he said.

“We’ve had problems with them in Australia targeting sea cucumber and giant clam.

“More regionally, both in Palau and Melanesia, in the past 18 months to two years, we’ve had problems with them going illegally after sea cucumbers.

“We’re now seeing them operating in Papua New Guinea, and they’ve been apprehended by Australia in the Coral Sea and by the French off New Caledonia,” he said.

Commander Baker said it wasn’t yet known whether assets other than ships and aircraft could be used to locate the illegal fishing vessels.

“We know those assets can work against the larger metal-hulled fishing boats, but we don’t know whether they can work against wooden-hulled boats.

“So one of the initiatives for the future is to work out if we can do that, and hopefully by the end of the month we’ll have an idea of whether that’s possible,” Commander Baker said.