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Royal Navy joins fight against illegal fishing in South Pacific

A New Zealand Maritime Patrol Aircraft passes HMS Spey
25 August 2022
Royal Navy offshore patrol ship HMS Spey joined navies, coast guards and police in the southwest Pacific on a concerted effort to protect local fishing stocks.

Over ten days Spey took part in Operation Island Chief, one of four concerted efforts every year focusing on detecting, reporting, apprehending and deterring illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.

Illegal fishing is estimated to cost the Pacific Island nations more than US $150m (£127m) every year in lost revenue.

Seventeen nations have joined forces to monitor activities across a vast area of the Pacific – more than 18.4 million square kilometres of ocean, 30 times larger than the North Sea and rich with tuna – covering waters in the exclusive economic zone of Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu amongst others.

It’s the first time the Royal Navy has taken part in the operation, one of many varied missions as part of the broader five-year Pacific mission by sister patrol ships HMS Spey and Tamar.

HMS Tamar has been working alongside the US Navy, Australia and Japan delivering medical and infrastructure support to remote island communities around the Philippines under the Pacific Partnership mission.

Spey has most recently been operating further south, first off, the northern coast of Australia, now, to the east, in the islands, centered on Fiji.

The patrol ship’s crew met members of the Fijian Government ahead of the operation, then embarked local military and police personnel as part of an agreement recently signed between the two nations.

The Fijians shared their knowledge and experience of local waters and ‘patterns of life’ – regular activities by seafarers – and efforts to curb illegal fishing, while the Brits shared their experience of similar operations around the UK, as well as general life and operations on a Royal Navy warship: gunnery, treating casualties, firefighting and damage control.

This is the second time that I have worked with the Fijians and both times has been a complete pleasure

Spey’s Deputy Coxswain, Petty Officer Marc Brown

Spey worked alongside long-range maritime patrol aircraft from Australia and New Zealand and the US Coast Guard.

Key information was passed on to the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, which oversees the operation on behalf of participating nations. It carried out inspections of suspect vessels in ports as well as boardings at sea.

“This is the second time that I have worked with the Fijians and both times has been a complete pleasure,” Spey’s Deputy Coxswain, Petty Officer Marc Brown said.

“Their professionalism, willingness to get stuck in and integrate with the ship’s company has been second to none. I would be happy to work with the Fijian Navy any time.”

In a brief break in the operation, Spey’s sailors were given unparalleled access to Yadua Taba wildlife sanctuary.

The site – home to approximately 14,000 crested iguanas – is not open to the public, so personnel were extremely privileged to see these rare and fascinating animals.

“It’s a vital conservation project, providing a safe environment for a critically-endangered species,” said Lieutenant Gareth Senior, Spey’s marine engineering officer.

“The ranger took the ship’s company through the important work they do to preserve the iguanas’ environment and protect them from poachers and smugglers.”

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