This after travel and border restrictions put in place as part of the response to the global Covid-19 pandemic led to a reduction in the frequency of aerial patrols carried out by the New Zealand Defence Force.
The Defence Force is now working with the National Maritime Coordination Centre and Pacific partners to resume aerial patrols in the Pacific following concerns about illegal fishing in the region.
A Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P-3K2 Orion will this week carry out aerial surveillance over the Exclusive Economic Zones of the Cook Islands and Niue.
The crew have been given permission to carry out overnight logistics stops in the Cook Islands, so three days of patrols can be carried out in the eastern Pacific. They arrived in Rarotonga yesterday.
Air Component Commander Air Commodore Tim Walshe said the air crew would continue to follow health guidelines such as screening prior to departure as well as personal hygiene measures and careful restrictions on movements while in the Cook Islands. Any other local requirements of the Cook Islands would also be strictly observed.
“The Orion crew will detect and report illegal, unregulated or unreported fishing activity within the Exclusive Economic Zones of Niue and the Cook Islands. We routinely support Niue and the Cook Islands with patrols and are resuming these given current uncertainty about illegal fishing activity. If it is the case that illegal activity has increased, that has implications for the sustainability of fish stocks.’’
The crew will also take the opportunity to look for unreported or undetected pleasure craft that are potentially being used for transnational organised crime such as drug smuggling. Any information gathered is provided to the relevant authorities.
“We are also ready to resume support to other Pacific nations if asked to do so.”
The crew will also fly over the Kermadec Islands and provide an update to the Department of Conservation, after DOC staff on Raoul Island were evacuated ahead of Covid-19 border and travel restrictions.