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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, May 9) — A three-nation marine surveillance operation has netted five foreign vessels fishing illegally in the Micronesian area.

Called "Operation Big Eye," it was "one of largest and complex maritime surveillance operations to be held within the Pacific region," Lt. Cmdr. Ben Hemphill of the Royal Australian Navy, who is an advisor to the Marshall Islands Sea Patrol based in Majuro, said Friday.

The major marine surveillance program is attempting to enforce regulations and halt illegal fishing by foreign fleets within these three nations’ huge exclusive economic zones that stretch across the central Pacific.

The Federated States of Micronesia’s waters are one of the main tuna fishing grounds in the Pacific.

Australian-funded patrol boats from the three Micronesian nations of Palau, Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands pulled off their fourth major joint surveillance operation over a two week period ending earlier this week.

Vessels from Japan, China and the Philippines were apprehended allegedly violating various regulations within the 200 mile EEZs of these three nations.

A unique feature of the three-nation surveillance agreement is that the patrol vessels are authorized to board and arrest illegally fishing vessels in all three EEZs, not only their own.

"Success of the operation was contributed to the complex task of coordinating patrol boats, aircraft and intelligence from a joint headquarters and using that information to apprehend five fishing boats for alleged licensing and fisheries violations," Hemphill said.

The two-week surveillance operation also involved the navy and coast guard of the United States, and air forces of Australia and New Zealand to provide aerial monitoring of fishing vessels, as well as support of the Forum Fisheries Agency in the Solomon Islands.

"This year, Big Eye involved the three Micronesian states and their patrol boats, and included contributions from the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Galveston Island, the U.S. Navy, Royal Australian Air Force and Royal New Zealand Air Force high-tech P3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft," Hemphill said.

"The Micronesian states lead other Pacific nations in joint maritime surveillance operations," Hemphill said. "This was displayed by their ability to work together inside each other’s EEZs when (Micronesia’s patrol vessel) Independence conducted surveillance and boarding operations inside Marshall Islands waters."

Hemphill said that Operation Big Eye "is strongly supported by funding and personnel from the Australian government’s Department of Defense. Australian Defense advisers to the three nations provided operational and technical advice to the Big Eye headquarters, as part of Australia’s ongoing support to Pacific nations’ maritime surveillance efforts."

May 9, 2005

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