2 Foreign Fishing Vessels Boarded In Tongan Waters

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Surveillance mission results in one vessel being temporarily detained

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, May 28, 2014) – Two foreign fishing boats were boarded in Tongan waters and one apprehended, during a ten-day maritime surveillance operation to quell illegal fishing across the South Pacific Ocean, that ended last Friday 23 May.

According to the FFA, 30 vessels were boarded during the operation throughout the region. The operation known as Tui Moana 2014 covered the Exclusive Economic Zones and high seas of the Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Niue, Tokelau and Tuvalu. The operation is an initiative of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) with the goal of stopping illegal fishing boats from operating in the area, and has been undertaken annually for the last 13 years.

The FFA director General James Movick stated "With catch rates and product prices relatively low, we have seen numerous fleets tie up lately. Now more than ever, it is important that surveillance efforts maintain a high standard of vigilance. It is an unfortunate fact that when times are tough, the incentives for illegal fishing are greater, so it is important to reinforce the message that Pacific nations and our surveillance partners are monitoring and aware of what’s happening in our fishing waters."

[PIR editor’s note: Matangi Tonga reported that the detained vessel since been released as it was found to have the proper license to fish in Tongan waters. Lt Commander Sione Lino, Captain of the VOEA Neiafu, "said the reason it was boarded was because the owners had breached a condition of its license, when it did not have on board and failed to produce the original copy of its fishing license in Tonga, when they were approached while fishing between Vava’u and Niua waters on the night of Thursday May 22."]

Covering more than 2 million square kilometres of ocean, the operation included patrol boats from Tonga, Samoa, Tuvalu and the French military. The boats were supported by air surveillance from Australia, New Zealand, the United States and the French military.

Commander Mike Pounder of the Australian Navy, the Co-ordination officer for Operation Tu’i Moana, based in Honiara, told Matangi Tonga that the operation, which had a Polynesian focus, had seen local patrol boats conducting boarding of eight fishing boats in the northern Cooks (assisted by Samoa), five boats in Tuvalu and two in northern Tonga.

"The apprehension was the first for Tonga in a good long while, and it happened on the last day of the exercise," he said.

It is understood that while the navy does the apprehensions, it is the local fisheries officials who make the decisions on whether or not to prosecute offending vessels.

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