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MAJURO, Marshall Islands (February 15, 2002 – The Marshall Islands Journal)---The ceremonial signing of the agreement on the Cooperation in Fisheries and Law Enforcement by RMI Minister of Justice Witten T. Philippo, FSM Secretary to the Department of Justice Paul E. McIlrath and Palau Minister of Justice Michael Rosenthal took place last week.

After the initial idea for the tri-lateral agreement was envisioned back in 1992, when the three governments became parties to the Niue Treaty on Cooperation in Fisheries Surveillance and Law Enforcement in the South Pacific region, it wasn’t until the middle of last year that the idea was really put into action by the RMI’s Lieutenant Commander Bob Thomas. Working from an earlier adaptation of the Niue Treaty, Thomas drafted what became the current "Force Multiplier" proposal. It took several re-drafts and a lot of effort before all parties involved finally settled on the agreement.

According to the agreement, the intention of the governments involved is to enhance further the ability to enforce effectively, fisheries, customs and immigration laws, deter breaches of such laws, and cooperate closely with each other for this purpose.

Attending the event was Brendan Doran, Australian Ambassador to the three countries, RMI Cabinet Ministers, Australian Maritime Surveillance Advisors, Lieutenant Commander Bob Thomas of RMI, LCDR Greg Rochester of FSM and LCDR Bob Heffey of Palau, RMI Surveillance Chief Thomas Heine, FSM Police Chief Pius Chotoloug and Palau Maritime Surveillance Chief Ellander Ngirameketti.

By signing, the governments of the RMI, FSM and Palau agreed to work more closely toward upholding the laws of each government involved to achieve their mutual aims.

Operations of "hot pursuits" in the waters of the three countries is permitted providing the party involved makes every effort to notify the national authority of the water they are entering. Under this contract the three governments can now secure jurisdiction over the individuals and assets that are involved in any violation.

In his speech while hosting the historic signing ceremony, Minister Philippo told Doran that RMI appreciates Australia’s continued support for the Pacific Maritime Surveillance program.

"We are very proud of our crew and the work that they do and recognize that the high standards that they achieve are greatly enhanced by the training they receive in Australia."

"I would also like to recognize and thank the representatives from our Micronesian neighbors, the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau, for their cooperation throughout the entire negotiation process. It is hoped that this spirit will continue to thrive and that joint operations will commence soon."

At the signing, FSM Secretary to the Department of Justice Mellrath referred to the long process involved in the creating of' the agreement. "The many people that have worked so hard to bring about today’s signing are to be commended. I know that for many, this process has seemed to be unnecessarily long and difficult.

"This agreement will be the start of many future cooperative agreements among our nations. Such cooperation will become all the more important in the years ahead, as political and economic factors compel us to nurture our individual resources."

In his speech, Palau’s Minister Rosenthal said, "This coordinated effort will result in improved enforcement to deter illegal fishing and lead to enhanced resource preservation."

The three countries met after the agreement was signed to discuss a joint training and patrol operation with patrol boats from all three nations. The joint operation would provide an opportunity to work on a coordinated law enforcement exercise in regard to violations of fishing, customs and immigration laws and allow the crew to have practical experience, such as ship boarding. It is anticipated that, if agreed by all parties, the operation could begin in August of this year and last between two to three weeks.

The Marshall Islands Journal, Box 14, Majuro, Marshall Islands 96960 E-mail: journal@ntamar.com  Subscriptions (weekly): 1 year US $87.00; international $213.00 (air mail).

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