The Australian Fisheries Management Authority and the Royal Australian Navy recently conducted a joint operation - Operation GRAB III - to target foreign fishing in Australian waters.
Two of Navy’s Armidale class patrol boats - HMA Ships Launceston and Maitland - with Fisheries Management Authority officers embarked, conducted the operation in Australian waters where a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Indonesia allows for Indonesian people to fish using traditional methods.
Maitland's Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Alisha Withers, described the operation as being a successful effort to refine the capabilities of two patrol boats to work to police fishing activities specifically for seabed species within the Seabed Jurisdiction Area.
“Between Maitland and Launceston, we conducted 22 boardings of foreign fishing vessels during the four days of Operation GRAB,” she said.
“On each occasion, we were able to quickly confirm that the vessels were operating in accordance with the MOU, so we were able to educate the crews about permitted activities and reinforce to them that Australian authorities do police the area,” Lieutenant Commander Withers said.
“During our 'down-time' between boarding operations, Maitland and Launceston were able to practice a number of 'in company' exercises, including Officer of the Watch manoeuvres, replenishment at sea approaches and light line transfers.”
Over the three days of the operation, the two ships were able to clear the entire area defined by the MOU, ensuring maximum reach of fishing boats that regularly operate in the area using traditional means.
On conclusion, the vessels continued on with regular patrols in support of the protection of Australia's maritime security.
An Australian Border Force aircraft conducting a patrol in the area on the last day of Operation GRAB identified a foreign fishing vessel that appeared to be fishing inside Australian waters and outside the MOU area, and Launceston, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Dan Lord, was tasked to investigate.
“After making a high speed passage to intercept, our boarding party including an embarked Fisheries Management Authority officer was able to catch the boat by surprise, noting that it had a long line attached.
“After securing the vessel and getting direction from Fisheries Management Authority to apprehend the vessel, our personnel recovered the long line by hand.
“Given that the line was around 700m long, with some 70 hooks attached and four sharks caught, this was a slow operation, taking four hours in the middle of the night.
“Although it was disappointing that three sharks were discovered to have lost their lives, a success was releasing one living shark back to the wild.
“We then commenced a three day passage back to Darwin, with the foreign vessel under tow, where we handed the vessel and its crew over to Fisheries Management and Australian Border Force authorities, respectively, so my crew arrived home exhausted but proud of making a significant apprehension, and ensuring that we had reached out to all vessels within the MOU to ensure compliance with Australian law,” Lieutenant Commander Lord said.
Commodore Brenton Smyth, Commander Northern Command, noted that the entire operation was a success due to the close cooperation between the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, the Australian Border Force and Defence.
“This was a great outcome, as we were able to conduct a highly visible operation reinforcing Australia's commitment to policing our waters.
“Members of all three services of the Australian Defence Force together with their colleagues in the Australian Border Force and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority work year round to protect Australia from eight defined maritime security threats, including illegal foreign fishing in Australian waters.
“The work can be exhausting, but it is essential in protecting natural resources, and the security of Australia’s maritime domain,” Commodore Smyth said.
Imagery is available on the Navy Image Library at http://images.navy.gov.au/S20152905.