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Operation Breakwater: protecting Aust's borders

Operation Breakwater — protecting our borders while netting 23 suspected illegal fishing vessels


— new options trialled in fight against illegal fishing —

A major air and sea operation targeting border incursions by foreign fishing boats off Australia’s northern coastline has netted 23 suspected illegal fishing vessels and 197 suspected illegal fishers while also trialling new ways of combating illegal fishing.

Defence Minister Brendan Nelson, Fisheries and Conservation Minister Senator Eric Abetz, and Justice and Customs Minister Senator Chris Ellison, said today Operation Breakwater had been a highly successful, coordinated campaign.

The two-week surge operation, which began last month, was staged in Australian waters off Cape Wessel in the Northern Territory, and was managed by the Joint Offshore Protection Command.

Spearheading Operation Breakwater were the Customs patrol ship Oceanic Viking, Customs patrol boats Corio Bay and Roebuck Bay, Navy patrol boats HMAS Armidale, HMAS Fremantle and HMAS Ipswich, and the heavy landing craft HMAS Balikpapan.

Coastwatch and the Royal Australian Air Force provided surveillance aircraft, and officers from the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA), Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, and Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs provided support on the ground and at sea.

The Australian Government also used Operation Breakwater to operationally trial new options to improve the fight against illegal fishing in Australian waters.

For the first time, the Australian Customs Service coordinated the use of commercially chartered tug boats to bring apprehended illegal fishing boats into port.

Customs also used the Oceanic Viking to temporarily accommodate suspected illegal fishers before they were brought back to port.

1. Australia has developed a cooperative program with France which allows for each nation to patrol the others zone in the Southern Ocean.

These arrangements enabled Customs and Naval vessels to spend more time at sea patrolling our waters, rather than towing suspected illegal fishing boats into port or transiting suspected illegal fishers.

The apprehended vessels have been towed to the ports of Darwin and Gove. Of the 23 boats detained, two are 35-metre stern trawlers registered to the People’s Republic of China, eight are large, Indonesian-flagged iceboats and 13 are shark boats.

AFMA is carrying out investigations and charges are expected to be laid in the future.

Senator Abetz said that Operation Breakwater demonstrates the Australian Government’s commitment to combating illegal foreign fishing in our waters.

It follows two other major operations, codenamed Clearwater, which were mounted off northern and north-western Australia in 2005.

“This operation has not only resulted in 23 boats being seized, it will also have an impact on those fishers who wrongly think heading into Australian waters might be worthwhile,” Senator Abetz said.

“This country values its fish stocks and our right to ensure that they are sustainably managed for the benefit of future generations”.

Minister Nelson said this operation was further testament to the determination of the Government to fight illegal fishing.

“This operation demonstrates the effectiveness of the Australian Government’s cross-agency approach to dealing with illegal fishers, border protection and our sovereignty, and illegal fishing will not be tolerated.

“We will not muck around when it comes to protecting Australia’s national interest.”

Senator Ellison said Operation Breakwater had been conducted in addition to ongoing surveillance and enforcement activities elsewhere around the Australian coastline.

“This demonstrates the robustness of our current border protection arrangements,” he said. “It also indicates the success of new processing procedures for illegal fishers introduced by Customs on 1 November last year.

Operation Breakwater was run out of HQ Northern Command in Darwin, where officers from all these agencies, together with Defence personnel, coordinated activities to ensure the Operation’s success.

In addition to the 23 vessels apprehended during Operation Breakwater, 81 boats have already been apprehended in Australia’s northern waters since 1 January 2006.

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