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AUSTRALIA will fund an $AUD15million aerial surveillance platform for 30 years to control illegal fishing in the Pacific. For the first time, the programme will involve the private sector which will operate aircraft for maritime surveillance patrols over 30 years beginning in July 2017. The 13th Forum Fisheries Ministers Meeting in Port Vila, Vanuatu, last month heard that the surveillance contract would be offered on tender to interested aircraft operators.

One or several companies will operate flights over the Pacific and provide reports on fishing vessel movements to the Forum Fisheries Agency surveillance centre in Honiara in the Solomon Islands. This information will be accessed by Pacific countries to enable their naval or maritime police units to intercept illegal or suspect fishing boats.

Tuvalu’s Fisheries Minister, Elisala Pita, welcomed the programme and noted that the Pacific had a world class Monitoring, Control and Surveillance system in place. “We know there is an excellent programme. What is needed now is regional cooperation and political will together with effective national MCS programmes,” Pita said.

The Australian-funded aerial surveillance platform will be provided by manned, fixed wing aircraft – ruling out the possibility of using drones or helicopters. Australian Department of Defence sources said the FFA would gradually assume operational control of the programme and manage all information on behalf of member countries. “We envisage that commercial aircraft operators across the region will be able to bid to provide contracted services to Australia,” the source said.

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