"Fishing doesn't stop, so neither will our surveillance," said Commander Robert Lewis, at the Forum Fisheries Agency’s Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre (RFSC) in Honiara as Operation Rai Balang 2020 comes to a close.
The two-week fisheries surveillance activity ends tomorrow. It covered 14.1million square kilometres and included 108 sighting and 24 boardings during the heightened global response to coronavirus.
"Fisheries surveillance in the Pacific is imperative to ensure compliance by the fishing fleets, and deter any illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities. Fisheries have a direct benefit for Pacific island counties economies, and that makes surveillance even more important in these unprecedented times," Commander Lewis said.
“Twenty-four boardings is a real impact considering the current COVID-19 situation; obviously each crew considered national guidelines to ensure their safety and avoid any potential coronavirus transmission," said CMDR Lewis.
The participants of Op Rai Balang were eight FFA member states: Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. This was supported by Quadrilateral defence partners: Australia, France, New Zealand and the United States, and the Pacific Maritime Surveillance Programme aircraft. Due to developing global travel restrictions and recalls of national surveillance assets, not all surveillance assets were utilised as planned.
FFA Director General, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen underlined the regional coordination demonstrated during Op Rai Balang. "At the outset, we sincerely thank all of those who participated to ensure the success of this operation during these challenging times. In the Pacific, we know that together we are stronger. The extraordinary circumstances for Op Rai Balang presented a unique way to demonstrate our collective commitment to protecting our valuable fisheries resources and confirming that any challenge can be overcome through Cooperation. The FFA is proud to continue to assist our member States in this way."
Op Rai Balang is one of four targeted operations hosted by the FFA annually, however regional surveillance is supported 365 days a year through the RFSC Regional Surveillance Picture.
There have been no cases of coronavirus reported in the Pacific Islands region, although Australia and New Zealand have reported cases, and in the case of Australia, one death.
However the Pacific region has responded with a series of travel advisories and requirements.
These are constantly being updated, but here is the most recent series of requirements, as of March 2.
Federated States of Micronesia
Nauru has announced entry restrictions for any travellers who have travelled from or through China in the 21 days prior to traveling to Nauru. The same restriction applies to travel from or through areas with a “publicly stated outbreak” or other areas of outbreak concern specified by the Nauru Ministry of Health and Medical Services.
Wallis and Futuna
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has shared more details of how her country plans to support Fiji in fighting transnational crime.
In a statement to media during her official visit to Fiji today, Ardern noted that both countries face “the scourge of those who seek to profit on the misery of others through drugs like methamphetamine. None of us are alone in that battle.”
She has provided more detail of the NZ$11 million in assistance first announced last year. From May this year, $1 million will be used to enhance forensic labraotries in Fiji, which she says are critical in successful prosecuting drug traffickers once seizures are made. New Zealand will also fund four full-time police mentors to work with the Fiji police force, provide technical assistance to the ‘proceeds of crime’ unit, fund trained tracker dogs and help develop a police leadership development fund.
Ardern has acknowledged the support Fiji showed during the terrorism attacks on Christchurch mosques on March 15 last year.
“I want to thank Fiji for the.. friendship you extended to us in our darkest of hours, particularly when you yourselves lost your own in that attack. I want to express to you sadness and sorrow that that happened on our soil, but our thanks for the friendship you have extended.”
Ardern will visit the Lautoka Jame Masjid Mosque on Thursday. Fijians Ashraf Ali Razat of Narere, Imam Hafiz Musa Patel of Lautoka and Ashraf Ali were among the fifty-one who were killed in the shooting. Patel had been the Pesh Imam, leading services at Lautoka Jame Mosque for 25 years.
Also on the agenda during today’s talks was the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER Plus). Fiji is still to ratify that agreement; Ardern says her government believes it presents an opportunity to spread economic prosperity in the region.
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama says the world “badly needs more leaders like Jacinda.”
He says Fiji is proud to be on the right side of history alongside New Zealand in pressing for urgent action on climate change by passing a Climate Change Bill later this year. Last November New Zealand’s parliament voted to commit the nation to reduce its carbon emissions to zero by 2050 and meet its commitments under the Paris climate accords.
Ardern will be chief guest at a state dinner this evening.
Late last month, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare praised Tourism Solomons for its “relentless effort” to consistently grow visitor arrivals.
PM Sogavare also expressed optimism about the opportunities the relationship with China will bring to the sector: “It is crucial that development and business opportunities with China in the tourism sector are strategically embraced," he told industry leaders.
Josefa Tuamoto, who is originally from Fiji, is the CEO at Tourism Solomons. He says it’s a great place to work, and there is good scope for growth if some of the fundamentals are set right.
Islands Business: You’ve been with Tourism Solomons for a while now. What changes have you seen during your time in the role of CEO?
Josefa Tuamoto: I’ve seen a lot of changes, particularly infrastructure changes. I was here when they started with the port, they’ve finished the port with the Japanese. The roads now are much better than when I first came. I think the next phase is to continue that further.
From a tourism perspective, a lot of work Tourism Solomons has done is to basically tell the story to government. Why it [tourism] is important. When you see the economics of the country, logging is basically slowing down. So we’ve had to look at other opportunities and tourism presents one of those.
[In the Solomons] it’s not your normal four star, five star hotels [that dominate], it’s the small ones which I think is quite unique. From the tourism side we’ve also seen a lot of changes within the industry, a lot of people want to engage with us more try to understand a lot of things that we do, our role was also to escalate Tourism Solomons so they see the value. That was one of the big jobs. I think now we have proven that we are here for the long term, because the economy needs tourism.
There is still a long way to build human capital.
I don’t think we will ever reach that point where we will say we are happy. There is always room to improve. And also to move out to the provinces too. When we launched our brand one of the things we wanted to do was reach out to the provinces. We had a presentation to cabinet, they endorsed that.
The DNA for the destination is the culture. Here there are so many cultures, within a province there is so much and [it’s] so authentic. When I say authentic, I mean it.
The other things is wreck diving is quite huge, very, very strong.
Also the sense of adventure. This is a destination where you have to want to come. You can’t just rock in. I think you’ll be in awe of a lot of things, the culture, particularly if you go to the provinces, it’s so different.
IB: Where are you seeing growth?
Tuamoto: To a certain extent our growth is managed growth. It’s not just coming and building hotels. The country is aware of that- that you can’t just start building hotels and expect people to come. People have to come for a reason so that they can enjoy their time.
Our visitors from Australia, New Zealand and the US are coming up.
IB: Is there opportunity in the MICE (meeting, incentives, convention and events) market?
Tuamoto: The meeting and incentive market is mainly centred on Honiara because we don’t have the facilities outside – Mendana and Heritage Park are the two main places. We’ve been blessed because there are so many NGOs and development partners that come and hold their conferences here and it has helped us. Essentially because our business traffic is quite high, the leisure market is only about 30 percent and our goal is to change that to about 50 percent or even more. That will only happen if we have enough rooms at a reasonable rate.
Prices are a big issue. If you want to bring a family, there’s flights and accommodation. That will get into your pockets when you can go to Fiji or Samoa, Tonga or Vanuatu for half the price.
IB: Is there much packaging of holidays and experiences done?
Tuamoto: Very few [packages are created]. We only about seven wholesalers. We’d like to see more wholesale packaging but that will only be driven by the product. The product has to be right for them to sell.
I think in terms of activities they are ok. There are WW2 dives, those kinds of things. And also we have some niche wholesalers who come. They are focussed on certain products such as birdwatching. They don’t do anything else but birdwatching. We also have one wholesaler that specifically does fishing and surfing.
IB: What other niches are there?
Tuamoto: We are the niche. (laughs) Because our arrivals is 30,000 and that’s like a day in Fiji. Our core is dive, then we have birdwatching, fishing, trekking.
IB: What opportunities does the diplomatic switch to China present?
Tuamoto: The main issue here is inventory. We don’t have sufficient inventory. Hopefully with China coming in they might consider investing in tourism, that would be a big thing for us apart from just the sheer numbers in terms of marketing. That would open up a lot of things. We don’t have ADS which is full destination status as yet, so who knows, the government might decide to go with it, and it might open up a lot of avenues for us too.
In Fiji when I was there, we didn’t have it, so we worked with the ministry of tourism and civil aviation. Sometimes you actually don’t need it, but it is more politically right to seek it.
Solomon Islands tourism: Polishing the gem
By Alipate Pareti
Fiji has had a tremendous start to the Sydney 7s, winning against Kenya and surprising the All Blacks.
Fiji beat Kenya 28 – 14 then went on to tumble last week champions New Zealand 26 – 5. Depending on how Fiji fares against Wales today, the All Blacks may be out of cup contention.
Samoa is the only other South Pacific teams in the men’s competition, but lost both matches yesterday, going down to France 24 – 17 and Argentina 28 – 21.
But they were not easy wins for Samoa’s opponents. Coach Sir Gordon Tietjens has been with Samoa rugby for a couple of years now and the fruits of their labours are slowly starting to show as Samoa earnestly improve their results.
Samoa has a tough match against South Africa in its final pool game today.
Meanwhile in the women’s competition, Hamilton champions the New Zealand Black Ferns continued their blistering form, easily demolishing their opponents today.
The Fijianas played well today, beating the USA in their first pool game as they dotted one last try to edge out the Americans 19 points to 14.
The side went on to play last weekend’s cup finalists Canada in their second match.
They gave them a little fright but lost to the Canadians 20 - 14.
Even without the leadership of Captain courageous, Raijeli Daveua, the side showed real signs of improvement that forecasts exciting times for Fiji Women’s rugby in the not so distant future.
They will meet Brazil, who are exciting newcomers to rugby in the third round of pool play tomorrow morning.