Australia’s Pacific Fusion Centre to target threats of illegal fishing in the Pacific

by Bernadette Carreon | 1 July 2019 | News

Palau's lone patrol boat PSS Remeliik apprehends two Vietnamese blue boats in 2015. They were found anchored in Helen Reef, at the southernmost part of Palau. The illegal fishing boats were spotted during an aerial surveillance. The aera is rich in corals and fishes. Palau's EEZ is an area as big as Texas, and policing the area remains a challenge for the small island country. Photo: Richard Brooks.

Two small island nations in the North Pacific are requesting the Australian government to host the upcoming Pacific Fusion Centre, which can assist North Pacific, and other Pacific island nations with the information they need to better identify and respond to security threats such as illegal fishing.

The Pacific Fusion Centre was announced in September 2018 by the Australian government to assist with security threats including drugs, illegal fishing, and people smuggling.

Palau and Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) would want the Centre located in their nations or at least in the North Pacific.

In a press statement in May, FSM President David W. Panuelo received George Fraser, ambassador of Australia and asked if the FSM could be the host for the upcoming Pacific Fusion Centre.

“The North Pacific needs more exposure [compared to the South Pacific],” said President Panuelo.

He said FSM’s commitment to the Technology for Tuna Transparency or T3 Challenge would be able to get help from the center.

The T3 Challenge seeks to acquire 100 percent transparency in its tuna fisheries by 2023.

Meanwhile, Palau made the same request with the visiting Australian officials on June 24.

Ms. Sophie Fisher of the Pacific Strategy Division of Australian Department of Foreign Affairs paid a courtesy call with the Vice President and Minister of Justice, Raynold Oilouch .

The Centre will facilitate sharing/exchange of information on transnational crimes and illegal fishing activities within the Pacific.

The Pacific will be equipped technologically and manned with properly trained people to analyse and interpret surveillance data and advice PIF countries to respond properly.

Earnest Ongidobel, Oilouch’s Chief of Staff, says the request also amplifies the wishes of North Pacific countries for Australia to give more focus to this side of the Pacific.

He added that the Centre would also complement the existing assistance it already receives from various allies in its surveillance efforts in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), especially as it closes 80 percent of its EEZ in commercial fishing by 2020.

Australia has not announced a location but has said it will be established in the middle of this year.

A statement from the Australian Embassy in Pohnpei said that: “Australia is working with regional partners to establish a Pacific Fusion Centre to strengthen the ability of Pacific governments to enforce their laws and protect their sovereignty.”

It said that as part of the pilot phase, an interim Centre will be established in Canberra in mid-2019 to “test the product and build regional analytical capacity ahead of the Centre’s establishment in a Pacific island country in 2020.”

The statement added that the Centre is also aligned with the vision of the Boe Declaration signed by the Pacific leaders and Australia in 2018 to address security challenges in the region including illegal fishing, people smuggling and drug trafficking. 

The embassy also noted that a regional Reference Group will provide guidance and advice on the design, establishment, and operationalisation of the Pacific Fusion Centre. The Group will include representation from Pacific countries, regional security organisations, Australia and New Zealand.