The Commandant met with leadership from the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and the Royal Australian Navy. Together, these organizations share similar authorities and responsibilities as the U.S. Coast Guard.
Adm. Papp toured the new Australian Customs and Border Protection Service patrol boat Cape St. George, visited Rescue Coordination Center Australia and received detailed briefings from the Royal Australian Navy and Australian Border Protection Command, a multi-agency task force that directs coordinated maritime governance operations.
Australia faces similar threats to the safety, security and stewardship of its waters as the U.S., and the visit highlighted ongoing and possible future areas of cooperation. Australia’s recently-passed Maritime Powers Act of 2013, which enters force, in 2014 will increase the authorities of maritime law enforcement officers and their ability to work together across agencies.
“I’m here primarily to listen and observe — to better understand the maritime challenges in the region and how to address them,” said the Commandant. “Last month’s seizure of 750 kilograms of cocaine from a sail boat in Vanuatu and a sharp increase in illegal maritime migration to Australia underscores our similar areas of concern. We must work closely to better combat the transnational criminal networks that threaten the security and prosperity of our nations.”
Australia is a regional leader for strengthening maritime governance capacity with partner nations throughout Oceania. The Royal Australian Navy Pacific Patrol Boat program provided and sustains 22 patrol boats for 12 Pacific island nations along with a permanently assigned Royal Australian Navy maritime advisor for each. The Commandant toured one of these patrol boats from Tonga undergoing shipyard maintenance in Cairns, Australia, and met the Tongan crew.
Another venue for cooperation is the Quadrilateral Defence Coordination Talks, which brings together major South Pacific stakeholders – Australia, United States, France and New Zealand – to collectively enhance maritime security in the vast region. The Quad Talks provide planning and operational coordination to assist smaller Pacific island nations with fisheries enforcement and to coordinate maritime surveillance efforts. U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Cari Thomas, 14th Coast Guard District commander, heads the U.S. delegation, which meets again in December.
In one example, the four Quad Talks nations supported the Pacific Island Forum Fishing Agency Operation Kurukuru last year to combat illegal fishing. Four surface ships and four aircraft from France and the United States along with personnel from Australia and New Zealand joined the operation, which resulted in 206 vessel boardings and 27 citations for numerous violations. The coordinated at-sea presence and visible enforcement effort also improves maritime domain awareness and maritime security among participating countries.
U.S. Coast Guard cooperation with Australia is longstanding and wide ranging. Two Royal Australian Navy helicopter pilots typically serve on exchange with the Coast Guard. Australia has also historically served as a forward operating base for Coast Guard polar icebreakers involved with Operation Deep Freeze, the annual effort to resupply McMurdo Station in Antarctica.
“It was a very productive and timely visit, especially our exchange of ideas about how to effectively combat their recent increase in illegal immigration,” said the Commandant. “In many ways Australia faces a more complex challenge of interdicting surging illegal maritime migration from a variety of countries across vast patrol distances with a relatively smaller number of ships. I learned how they effectively prioritize scarce operational resources and have built a highly effective interagency maritime domain awareness system that operates across government.”
The Commandant continued his international outreach with a visit to the Republic of Korea.