Cook Islands strengthen maritime surveillance capabilities
4th June 2022
Prime Minister Hon. Mark Brown signed a Memorandum of Understanding for aerial surveillance services between the Cook Islands and the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) Director-General Dr. Manu Tupou-Roosen. The signing took place in Nadi on the 4th June 2022 – made possible with Prime Minister Brown travelling to Suva for a series of high-level engagements and Dr Tupou-Roosen in Nadi for a special meeting of Fisheries Ministers. The MOU provides for Two King Air aircraft that will be available to the Cook Islands to undertake targeted fisheries surveillance missions.
The MOU operationalises a decision by Pacific Islands Forum Leaders in 2018 supporting the establishment of the FFA Aerial Surveillance Program (ASP), to bolster the capabilities and effectiveness of national maritime surveillance operations. Funded by the Australian Government, through the Pacific Maritime Security Program, the ASP offering complements the Pacific Patrol Boat Program that provided the Cook Islands with the Police Patrol Boat Te Kukupa, and its soon to be received replacement Te Kukupa II.
Prime Minister Brown remarked “through the MOU, harnessing the use of these aircrafts bolsters our ability to protect our tuna resources, for food security and sustainable economic development opportunities. We must have strong monitoring and surveillance capabilities to achieve this, and maintaining a physical presence on the water through Te Kukupa and vessels of partner governments, as well as in the air, through the ASP sends a strong signal that we are serious about maintaining the sustainability of our tuna fisheries.”
Primarily focussed on strengthening fisheries surveillance and enforcement, the ASP will provide broader benefits for maritime surveillance including across areas such as customs, immigration and transnational crime. “We recognise the Cook Islands has one of the largest EEZs within the FFA membership, and it requires a monitoring and surveillance framework that integrates both national and regional capabilities, fit for managing shared tuna resources that migrate across multiple jurisdictions. This aerial surveillance program significantly enhances the capability of our Pacific Islands to physically monitor its vast waters adding to the regional suite of monitoring, control and surveillance tools that FFA provides to support its Members.” Said Director-General Tupou-Roosen.
The collaboration between the FFA and the Cook Islands Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) to develop the MOU required sustained consultations by MMR with other national agencies. MMR Secretary, Pamela Maru, was pleased with the signing stating “this is the culmination of two years of joint agency collaboration for assets and services that we otherwise would not be able to access”. She further expressed her appreciation “everyone came to the table, and could see the obvious benefits our country would garner from the program. This wouldn’t be possible without the positive contributions and collaboration between MMR, Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, Finance and Economic Management, Transport, Agriculture, Crown Law Office, the Cook Islands Airport Authority and the Manihiki Island Government. This was a real team effort”.
Whilst initial ASP operations will be based out of Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Manihiki, it is hoped that other islands might eventually be accessible to the program, which will expand the range and utility of the aircraft. This includes the potential to support surveillance efforts for the waters of neighbouring EEZs.