Now in its fourth year the joint maritime surveillance operation, Operation IKA MOANA, has been successful in both terms of its achievements and as a demonstration of the value regional partnerships.
Involving more than 100 personnel from Tonga, the Cook Islands and Samoa, New Zealand and Australia, this year's iteration involved Cook Islands Police Patrol Boat Te Kukupa, Samoan Patrol Boat Nafanua and Tongan vessels Voea Late and Pangai.
The patrol boats were provided air support in the form of a New Zealand Air Force P-3 Orion maritime surveillance aircraft.
The operation focused on the Northern Cook Islands Exclusive Economic Zone and the Penrhyn Atoll; a remote, scarcely populated area that sees a high concentration of foreign flagged fishing vessels but infrequent policing.
Lieutenant Commander David Ince, the Royal Australian Navy heritage Maritime Surveillance Adviser to Tonga who accompanied the operation, said the scale of the operation, as well the results, were impressive.
“The main search area covered by the three patrol boats was 66,500 square miles to the south and west of Penrhyn Atoll where the majority of the foreign fishing vessels were congregated," he said.
"The task force itself sailed and patrolled a combined 15,400 miles."
The contribution of the New Zealand P-3 Orion was particularly important in detecting and targeting vessels as it covered 350,000 square miles during its 35 hours of missions, reporting 170 vessels.
“The success of this years operation means that IKA MOANA will be a likely enduring feature in the calendar of these defence forces,” Lieutenant Commander Ince said.
This year the tiny island nation of Niue was also included in the operation, so the task force stopped briefly in Alofi to embark a Niuean Fishery and Police Officer. The ships also took the opportunity to conduct a sail past close to the coast for the Niuean Government and New Zealand High Commissioner to Niue. This is not something that is often seen in this small island country (population 1,200), so it was a real treat for the locals and visiting tourists.
For the next two weeks the joint task force conducted 32 boardings and many sightings. The boardings were often focused on fishing vessels known to have had violations in the past.
Although many of the fishing vessels were found to be in good standing a number of violations were detected and the vessels concerned ordered to leave the Cook Island Exclusive Economic Zone. Meanwhile the Landing Craft Voea Late provided logistics support running a 300km supply line between Manniki and Penrhyn Atoll, replenishing depleting food stores.
Voea Late was gifted by the Australian Government to Tonga in September 2015 as part of the Defence Cooperation Program.