Canberra (The Australian) – ILLEGAL fishing boats caught inside Australian territorial waters can be stopped by direct gunfire if they fail to heed orders to heave to.
The Department of Defence today confirmed the extreme measure approved by the former Howard government and upheld by the Rudd Government was available to Royal Australian Navy warships as a last resort.
The good news is that the option is increasingly unlikely due to a dramatic decrease in the number of detections of illegal foreign fishers this year.
“In exceptional circumstances the use of (gun) fire to stop a non-compliant vessel in the water may be permitted following consideration at senior levels within Defence,” a Defence spokeswoman said in reply to questions from The Australian.
Fisheries and Defence officials are now quietly confident they are winning the war on illegal fishing in Australia’s northern waters, with only four boats apprehended since May.
It compares with a peak of 365 illegal boats apprehended and boarded in 2006, 125 in 2007 and 77 for the current year.
Much of the success is due to a package of tough deterrent measures authorised by the former Howard government which allowed RAN commanders a range of graded options to stop illegal fishing boats.
They included the use of “riot control agents” to incapacitate foreign fishing crews, distraction ammunition, the use of warning shots, acoustic devices and as a last resort, direct gunfire to sink or disable poaching vessels.
Other contributing measures are due to new education programs in Indonesia – the main offender country – warning against illegal fishing and the deployment of the new Armidale Class patrol boats has also played a major role.
“The Armidale Class patrol boats have proven to be a successful presence due to their increased endurance on task, increased capabilities,” Defence said.
The decrease in the number of illegal fishing boats entering Australian waters does not mean the problem has disappeared.
“With this decrease in detections inside Australia’s EEZ (370km Economic Exclusion Zone) the illegal fishing boats have been observed operating legally just north of the EEZ.
“The continual presence of the defence and customs assets conducting surveillance and response patrols is proving to be a deterrent,” Defence said.
Source: Article by Mark Dodd | September 26, 2008