New partnership enhances maritime domain awareness, combats illegal fishing

New partnership enhances maritime domain awareness, combats illegal fishing

Gusty Da Costa

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) member countries of Australia, India, Japan and the United States announced a new multilateral initiative to improve maritime security at their Tokyo summit in late May 2022, among other joint efforts.

The Quad designed the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) to increase the region’s ability to respond to challenges such as natural and humanitarian disasters, and illegal fishing.  

The partnership, through a five-year investment, will “support and work in consultation with Indo-Pacific nations and regional information fusion centers in the Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands by providing technology and training to support enhanced, shared maritime domain awareness to promote stability and prosperity in our seas and oceans,” according to a joint statement released at the summit. (Pictured, from left: Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, U.S. President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meet ahead of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue summit in Tokyo on May 24, 2022).  

The IPMDA will use emerging technologies to transform the capabilities of partner nations to monitor waters and their shores to maintain a Free and Open Indo-Pacific. For example, the Quad plans to build a system that combines satellite and radio frequency technologies and improved information sharing capabilities to track activities in near real-time, the leaders said in a statement.

The resource will draw upon existing regional fusion centers, such as the Information Fusion Center-Indian Ocean Region in India; the Information Fusion Center in Singapore; the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency in the Solomon Islands, and the Pacific Fusion Centre in Vanuatu, both of which receive support from Australia.

“The benefits of this picture are vast: It will allow tracking of ‘dark shipping’ and other tactical-level activities, such as rendezvous at sea, as well as improve partners’ ability to respond to climate and humanitarian events and to protect their fisheries, which are vital to many Indo-Pacific economies,” the leaders said.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing seriously threatens the fisheries of the region, which produce most of the world’s seafood. IUU fishing also costs the region about U.S. $5 billion each year in lost revenues, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

“Most Indo-Pacific countries have historically been maritime states,” Dharma Agastia, a professor of international relations at Indonesia’s President University, told FORUM. “They are all dependent on fish as a primary protein source. Hence, they all have collective interests in reducing overfishing, just to make sure that there’s enough fish for everyone.”

Many analysts regard vessels from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the leading IUU fishing culprit. Nations from the Philippines to Spain to Somalia have accused PRC vessels of routinely violating their exclusive economic zones (EEZs), according to the United Kingdom’s Environmental Justice Foundation. EEZs extend 200 nautical miles from a nation’s shore.

Moreover, the IPMDA’s relevance for monitoring the PRC’s naval activities is especially significant, according to Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, director of the Centre for Security, Strategy and Technology at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.

“This is truly bringing the varied capabilities of the Quad together to help the entire region deal with a particularly insidious form of Chinese aggression: Beijing’s strategy of sending seemingly civilian fishing vessels to act as an extension of the PLA Navy in the maritime domains of various countries. This Quad initiative was much needed and should help the region recognize China’s covert aggression,” Rajagopalan wrote in the online new magazine The Diplomat. 

Gusty Da Costa is a FORUM contributor reporting from Indonesia.