Address by SG Tuiloma Neroni Slade at Maritime Security Meeting, Honolulu, Hawaii.



The Director, Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies, Lieutenant General Smith


Ladies and gentlemen


Our vast Pacific Ocean has many faces and conjures for different people different meanings. There is the geographic aspect: the world’s largest ocean, twice the size of the Atlantic. In its bounty, over millennia, it has sustained humankind in the history of its explorations and discoveries and in the development of modern economies and global trade.

Notwithstanding the connotations of its name, our Ocean has also been a stage for the playing out of key geopolitical rivalries and, in the last century, was an active theatre of global conflict. In that time Pacific cultures and traditions have been plundered, and Pacific communities have experienced the horrors and insecurities of the testing and explosion of nuclear weapons.

For the people of the Pacific islands, this is home. Home staked out in their long and magnificent Pacific voyaging so long ago. But, alas, where once generous in her provisions, the Pacific Ocean of today is under severe environmental degradation and change, and has come to reveal the darker side of her power to generate sea-level rise and related events of devastation. More immediately, as is the purpose of our gathering, the Pacific today is being confronted by globalised criminal activity, and in a way that is already posing significant threats to countries of the region and to the world at large. For the stability of our communities, we must take action to make our region and home safe and secure.

Protection of the maritime commons and issues of maritime security are vital to an organisation such as mine, the Pacific Islands Forum, where, perhaps uniquely in the world, there is only one land border (Papua New Guinea) and a common oceans border among our entire 16 nation membership. I want to thank the Asia-Pacific Centre for Strategic Studies for arranging this meeting and the opportunity to share our thoughts on a topic of such fundamental importance. Given the character of the region and the magnitude of its ocean domain, maritime security is at the very essence of our national and regional security requirements. There are few security issues in the Pacific that matter which do not have some direct maritime security implications.


Security risks for the Pacific

In 2005, Pacific Forum Leaders adopted a vision for the future to guide Forum policies and approaches to a myriad of issues. The overarching goal was to establish a region of peace, harmony, security and economic prosperity, so that its peoples could lead free and worthwhile lives. To give effect to this vision, Forum Leaders adopted the Pacific Plan to act as a roadmap for regional collaboration and cooperation. Security, a foundation stone for this vision, is one of the four pillars of the Pacific Plan and was recognised as an essential prerequisite for the other three pillars of good governance, economic growth and sustainable development.

In the existence of the Pacific Forum from 1971, there have been mainly harmonious relations between the States of the Pacific with very few border incidents and only a relatively small number of bilateral disputes, most of which were quickly resolved through diplomatic dialogue; and today, as it has been in the past, there seems little likelihood of a direct hostile military threat from outside the region.

However, there are real and serious external threats to maritime security, with implications for regional instability, in the form of potential terrorist attacks, transnational crimes, and the impacts of climate change and pandemic disease. Within regional countries, there are potential threats to stability and, sometimes, actual violent conflict created by internal tensions and disputes over resources, over ethnic and tribal issues, political discontent, poverty and perceived economic and social disparities.

External threats of the type indicated have potential to affect countries at their borders, threaten vital international shipping lanes or place limitations on the sustainable use of maritime resources. Internal threats and resulting instability can be caused by the movements of people, competition over resources and, as occasionally happens, the large losses of life from accidents at sea due to unseaworthiness of vessels.

There are, therefore, multiple aspects to maritime security, all requiring regulation and monitoring: to ships and ports; to sea areas within national borders; and, of particularly critical importance, to the sustainable use of maritime resources.

Within national jurisdictions these are areas normally administered by distinct and different Government agencies and, as does occur in other parts of the world, agencies do not always communicate effectively. Inadequate resourcing and policy limits on national capacities, alongside a lack of effective coordination and patchy cooperation at the regional level are some of the main obstacles to effective action to bolster maritime security.

What I want to do now is to offer some general reflections on some of the main maritime security issues facing the region, namely, the protection of marine resources and the ongoing struggle against transnational crime and terrorism.


Protection and sustainability of marine resources

The protection of maritime resources, particularly fisheries, is a huge responsibility for Pacific states, compounded as it is by limited technical and economic abilities of member states and by the vastness of the Pacific as well. Fish, as one of the few readily abundant natural resources, is vital to the prospects for the region’s sustainable economic development and future well-being, as a multi-billion dollar source of export revenue for many countries; as employment and livelihood opportunities for many Pacific islanders; and for food security, supplying in some communities up to 95% of their daily protein needs. With Pacific populations projected to grow sharply in the next 50 years, effective protective measures become fundamental to the sustainability of fisheries and, overall, to food security needs for the Pacific.

As it is, we know that an estimated 20% of the current reported catch from the Pacific comes from illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and that major international bodies are warning that overfishing is threatening some key commercial stocks. It is critical that Governments, of the Pacific and Governments worldwide continue to seek effective action to tighten controls over illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

As global fish stocks become depleted, more pressure will be placed upon the Pacific fisheries to supply even more than the current 54% of tuna it all ready supplies to the global market. Without proper management and enforcement to protect fish stocks, there is a distinct possibility of eventual resource depletion which would be absolutely catastrophic for island communities. Inevitably, it will be the communities which are not able to respond to the challenge and those most vulnerable to poverty, hunger and disease that will suffer, and possibly leading to increased social tension and potential conflict.

To protect fish stocks, regional agreements such as the Niue Treaty on Cooperation in Fisheries Surveillance and Law Enforcement in the South Pacific Region have provided mechanisms such as subsidiary agreements allowing for joint surveillance and improved cooperation on fisheries protection. Unfortunately, little use has been made of this particular mechanism with only a handful of subsidiary cooperative agreements between member countries having been made.

Terrorism and transnational crime

As to terrorism, the Pacific is generally rated as low in risk, and there seems little likelihood of planned attacks within the region. Nonetheless, attacks in Bali and Jakarta as well as thwarted plots in key capitals in Australia in recent years highlight the risk of such threats, and to a region where preparedness may be perceived as low. Not least for its deterrence effects, Pacific Forum countries are taking steps to maintain active counter-terrorism measures. Due to the high possibility of ocean cruise liners being targeted, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) prepared a report in 2008 for Pacific island countries containing recommendations on how to mitigate possible threats. This has supported the extensive work in policy and legislative development since carried out by the Forum Secretariat to assist member countries in preparing for terrorist events and also in meeting their international counter terrorism compliance and reporting obligations in response to the UN Security Council resolution 1373.

Throughout the region, Pacific island countries are being confronted by serious criminal activity such as drugs and arms trafficking, people smuggling and money laundering, much emanating from off-shore and having maritime security implications given the shipping and border controls involved. There is credible evidence of these activities being carried out by organised criminal groups having transnational criminal linkages and of their part in the commission of a variety of domestic crimes. The presence of these criminal networks poses an already significant threat by challenging governance structures, seeking to corrupt and undermine national law enforcement administrations and officials. Governments are directly affected by diminishing customs revenues, while the increasing volume and violence in related local crime undermine the capacity of law enforcement agencies to enforce effectively criminal and border legislation.

Regional studies have confirmed that criminals are using foreign fishing vessels, ocean pleasure craft and cruise liners to commit or facilitate their operations. Narcotics for example have been transhipped through the region for many years to markets in Australia, New Zealand and North America and using various vessels such as fast boats and mother–ship, fishing vessels and ocean going pleasure craft. The Pacific Transnational Crimes Assessment report of 2010 identified Asian criminal groups as using foreign fishing vessels to facilitate a host of criminal activities.


Regional coordination and cooperation

Addressing maritime security in the region is, by its very import, difficult. The coordination of national, regional and international efforts is essential but, in practice, a major and almost impossibly complex task. Vast ocean spaces, limited resources, numerous islands and long stretches of uninhabited coastlines producing porous borders easily accessible by organised criminal groups and fishing vessels, complicate any system of monitoring and surveillance. Poor communication or lack of it, duplication of effort and often conflicting mandates have also got in the way of effective responses. There, too, are the deep-seated rivalries between competing government agencies, particularly when agency budgets and funding are at stake.

Towards addressing these types of problems, work is underway at the national and regional levels, particularly through the Forum’s Working Group for Strengthening Information Management, to improve and unify policy objectives and encourage information sharing, especially at the national level. The overall objective is to develop a domestic information sharing model and improve the integration of fisheries data into domestic law enforcement information and intelligence systems. In support of these objectives, Forum Leaders also directed that countries negotiate by 2012 a subsidiary agreement for stronger provisions on fisheries and law enforcement information sharing under the multilateral Niue Treaty which I have referred to. Separately, Forum Leaders also endorsed the Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape which creates guiding principles and strategic priorities for the region to work more cooperatively and cohesively to improve the sustainable use and development of the ocean, consistent with international best practice approaches.

The involvement and cooperation of all major partners is, of course, the real key, especially in the provision of expertise, technical support and equipment to Forum island countries. Australia’s Pacific Patrol Boat Programme which has operated since 1983 is one such key component of the regional security architecture. Over that time Australia has supplied 22 patrol boats to Pacific island countries providing them with a capability to patrol and intercept vessels at sea, and also providing capacity to assist customs and border controls, mount maritime search and rescue missions, assist in disaster response and expand the reach of law enforcement to provincial areas. With this programme winding up in 2018, Australia has committed to a replacement activity and is currently consulting in the region to determine its scope and character.

Surveillance, search and rescue and disaster response activities are traditionally performed by Pacific states, with the essential participation and assistance from the naval forces of the United States, Australia, New Zealand and France. A recent new entrant into this field is the Peoples Republic of China.

Ship-rider Agreements between the United States Coast Guard and the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Marshall Islands, Tonga, Cook Islands and Kiribati is a much welcomed initiative and a significant boost to the Pacific regional security effort. These ship-rider arrangements allow for the placement of local law enforcement officers on Coast Guard vessels and enable the boardings of suspected or offending foreign vessels where the local officer has jurisdiction.

Regionally organised arrangements are also in place, including the Control and Surveillance Centre of the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) which tracks and coordinates foreign fisheries surveillance activities and operations on a regular basis, and provides essential data and information to member Governments and to regional authorities. Organisations such as the Secretariat of the Pacific Community provides technical assistance to Forum island countries in fulfilling their obligations under the International Ship and Port Security Code, and organises regular dockside trainings for Forum island countries.



In closing, let me return to where I started, and reiterate the absolute necessity and importance of maritime security to the sustainability and the stability of Pacific nations.

The region faces significant threats which need to be addressed comprehensively and as effectively as can be managed. The method of management calls for strengthened cooperation and coordination in the collective effort of regional and partner countries. It is the only way we can protect such a vast ocean space and its resources and to ensure the interests and security of communities.

Organised regional efforts also serve to bolster and support what each Pacific island country can do, and to enhance the national capacity of Pacific island countries. Many significant steps have been taken to develop and enhance the maritime security of the Pacific over the course of the almost 40 year history of the Pacific Islands Forum. But threats to the Pacific Ocean are such that we cannot allow for our collective efforts to wane or falter.

The acknowledgement of the Pacific as our home is the recognition of responsibility, indeed, the acceptance of the stewardship that is declared under the Pacific Plan, to keep the Pacific Ocean as safe and secure as possible for all Pacific people.

Thank you.

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