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WMD Exercise to be held in Auckland in September

9 September 2008

WMD Exercise to be held in Auckland in September

In September New Zealand will host ‘Exercise Maru’ in Auckland which will test New Zealand's ability to halt a shipment concealing materials used to make weapons of mass destruction (WMD). A large number of countries will be coming to participate and to observe.

Exercise Maru is a multi-nation, multi-agency exercise led by the New Zealand Customs Service in close cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the New Zealand Defence Force. A number of other domestic agencies are involved as well as the Ports of Auckland.

New Zealand Customs Service Deputy Comptroller of Operations, Robert Lake, said that operational activities during Exercise Maru would include ship-boarding and searching of vessels and containers.

“The exercise will have a strong law enforcement focus on preventing the proliferation of WMD- related materials across our borders, including examining the legal issues which arise after a WMD item has been intercepted” he said.

Exercise Maru will take place in the Hauraki Gulf and Ports of Auckland from 15 to19 September and is an example of New Zealand's strong commitment to the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). The PSI is an international initiative under which participating countries cooperate to stop illicit shipments of weapons of mass destruction.

“PSI exercises have traditionally been led by defence agencies but Exercise Maru is one of the first to be led by a law enforcement agency," said Mr Lake.

Customs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said Exercise Maru was not about halting the transport of a one-piece weapon; rather it was about combating the spread of components and technologies that could be used to manufacture such weapons.

“Weapons of mass destruction are built with an array of components that may have perfectly peaceful, legitimate, everyday uses as well as weapons applications,” she said.

“For example, chemicals used as cleaning agents could be used in weapons production and medical products could be used in the production of agents for biological weapons.

"This exercise is an important test of New Zealand's capabilities in this area and an opportunity to work closely on improving them alongside agencies from other countries.

“Some might wonder why New Zealand, a small country far from states of proliferation concern, should need to be part of the Proliferation Security Initiative and what risk weapons of mass destruction pose to us” she said.

“The fact is though, that no country is immune from the threat of the spread of such weapons.

“Weapons traffickers use complex transport and financing networks to hide their trade. As global security tightens, proliferators and terrorists are looking for new and less obvious transport routes. So, we can’t rule out the possibility that New Zealand may be used as a staging point for weapons of mass destruction-related goods shipments” said Ms Mahuta.

During the exercise, participants will practise boarding ships in the Hauraki Gulf, so people can expect to see some ships, patrol boats and planes in the Gulf however these activities are not anticipated to cause any disruption to Auckland residents.

Robert Lake said Exercise Maru would test how well New Zealand's response capability worked to protect the border from this kind of threat.

"People probably don’t think of the world’s Customs services as enforcement agencies but much of our work is in conducting investigations and prosecutions” he said.

There will be a number of overseas participants in Auckland for Exercise Maru, to learn from the exercise as well as bring international expertise and experience. The exercise will also include a range of countries from the Asia-Pacific region that will come to New Zealand to observe the exercise.

Nanaia Mahuta said it was a real honour for New Zealand, and for Auckland, to be hosting an international event such as Exercise Maru.

“We’re delighted so many of our partners from around the world will be travelling so far to support the exercise,” she said.

To learn more about Exercise Maru visit www.nzpsi.govt.nz

ENDS

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