Republic of the Marshall Islands hosts successful regional maritime surveillance operation

MAJURO, MARSHALL ISLANDS: The 6th Operation Bigeye, a coordinated maritime surveillance operation in which countries cooperate to detect activities such as illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, smuggling and people trafficking, was hosted by the Marshall Islands during the past two weeks.

Approximately 200 personnel from a variety of Southwest Pacific nations were actively involved in Operation Bigeye which resulted in locating over 500 foreign fishing vessels in the area of operations, 30 of which were considered worthy of further investigation and boarded after further analysis.  Eight Patrols Boats were at sea throughout the operation supported by a US Coastguard C130 Surveillance aircraft. 

Covering an area of 2 million square nautical miles - including the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of Marshall Islands, Kiribati, FSM, Palau, Nauru and PNG – Operation Bigeye 2009 involved surveillance and law enforcement staff from all of these countries working together with their counterparts from Australia and the US over 12 days of surveillance activities.

Surveillance was conducted by individual countries within their respective EEZ’s using 8 Pacific Class Patrol Boats (from Marshall Islands, Kiribati, FSM(3) PNG(2) and Palau). This was supported by aerial surveillance provided by a Hercules C-130 from the US Coast Guard and an Australian Armidale class patrol boat conducting a separate surveillance operation, Operation Solania.

Operation Bigeye was coordinated by a team based in the Marshall Islands National Police Force Sea Patrol Operations Room, funded from the Australian Defence Cooperation Program.  The program also provided the fuel for the participating patrol boats. The Operations Room relies on access to the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre (RFSC) which collects, displays and analyses aircraft and vessel movements over the entire operations area in an interactive display. By collating information from regional and national licence and suspected illegal fishing lists, the FFA RFSC can identify and monitor suspicious vessels.  Regional surveillance staff, trained by FFA in the use the RFSC operations system, can then prioritise their operations efforts, contact national staff and make decisions on where to allocate surveillance aircraft and patrol boats.

Operation Bigeye also involved participation by the United States Navy as an observer in the regional headquarters with a view to providing aircraft participation for future regional MCS operation. 

Operation Bigeye is a regional activity sponsored by Australia to meet the broader objectives of sustainable development and regional security of The Pacific Plan.

MEDIA CONTACTS – See comments next page. For further information & people to interview –
For Marshall media: Giff Johnson: The Marshal Islands Journal:  +692 6258143: For Pacific countries and international media: Anouk Ride, Tel: +677 94548 (or 21124) Email: [email protected] For Australian media: Australian Department of Defence Media Liason, Tel:  +61 2 6265 3343 or +61 408 498 664


Joint Operations Centre Coordinator: “Marshall Islands Police Force Sea Patrol Unit is pleased to host Operation Bigeye and contribute to the cooperative approach in regional surveillance operations”.

Acting Director General Pacific and East Timor, International Policy Division, Australian Department of Defence, said: "The Australian Defence Cooperation Program is pleased to support Operation Bigeye. It is encouraging to see the improvement in regional cooperation in maritime law enforcement in this year’s Operation Bigeye.” 

Director of Fisheries Operations of FFA, Luatutu Andre Volentras said: “FFA is proud to be a part of Operation Bigeye which has brought Pacific Island countries and territories together this week to share information and resources to survey our seas and combat illegal fishing. Using FFA support such as training, the E-Operations Room and FFA Vessel Monitoring System, participants in this operation have demonstrated skills, capability and regional solidarity.”