Pacific operators discuss building maritime security with island nations

Pacific operators discuss building maritime security with island nations


Military and government personnel operating in the Pacific islands traveled to Singapore in late May 2022 for a weeklong series of presentations and discussions on enhancing collaboration with island nations in the Pacific.

Those who could not attend the 2022 Maritime Security Working Group in person did so virtually to provide input on the theme, “Building Maritime Security Strategies in Pacific Island Nations.”

“Our goal was to build transparency in this workshop, exchange contact information and open the lines of communication so that we can work cooperatively to identify and fill the pieces of the maritime security puzzle for the Pacific islands, and I think I can say that that was achieved,” said Kevin Johnson, maritime domain and security advisor at U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s Pacific Fleet, whose Maritime Security Initiative (MSI) team planned and facilitated the week’s discussions.

Navy representatives from Australia, France, Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and United States, in addition to the Australian Border Force, U.S. Coast Guard and interagency groups such as the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency’s Institute for Security Governance and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) highlighted their efforts in the region. Participants brainstormed ways to better coordinate so that multiple agencies aren’t providing the same services to a given population.

The MSI Working Group has hosted workshops since 2017 to foster maritime domain awareness. Countries often detect and monitor maritime activity in their exclusive economic zones, identify potentially illicit activities through analyzing information and respond to interdict illegal actions. Where many fall short, Johnson said, is on human capital and having trained and experienced people to connect the dots. “That’s very critical in actually doing maritime security programs,” Johnson said.

UNODC works closely with Pacific island nations to build the people skills needed for them to better safeguard their maritime borders. In Fiji, for example, UNODC works with village chiefs to collect information from coastal communities, training local fishermen how to report suspicious maritime activities on social media, said Shanaka Jayasekara, Southeast Asia and the Pacific program coordinator for the UNODC’s Global Maritime Crime Programme.

Working Group attendees from the French Navy and the British Defence Singapore Support Unit (BDSSU) emphasized ongoing efforts that demonstrate their “persistent presence” in the region. Cdr. Tim Hutchins, commanding officer of the BDSSU, highlighted British Royal Navy ships HMS Spey and HMS Tamar. The offshore patrol vessels set sail for the Indo-Pacific in mid-2021 to be permanently stationed in the region. They schedule activities in six-month increments to remain flexible to participate in Indo-Pacific exercises or redirect efforts to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The ships can operate 320 days a year, Hutchins said.

“It’s not just the ships,” Hutchins said. “We also do international training.”

The British Royal Navy’s international maritime training team visits the region and provides courses to 20 or 30 Pacific island military personnel at a time. It also sponsors officers and key leaders to train at Royal Navy facilities in the United Kingdom on topics that include maritime law, navigation and sea safety. Once these exercises are complete, the HMS Spey and HMS Tamar provide continuity training.

“It is physical capacity building and also checking up to make sure that all that work that has been done previously is not just neglected, but it’s a continual effect,” Hutchins said.

Working Group attendees plan to continue discussions, follow up with their respective leadership and build on the connections they formed.