As part of the recently completed Operation Island Chief 2020 (OPIC20), conducted from 24th August to 4th September 2020, Cook Islands and Niuean Officials initiated the live launch of the Niue Treaty Information System (NTIS). The NTIS facilitates activities such as requests for surveillance assistance, data and intelligence sharing, cross-vesting powers, and operations and resource sharing under the Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement (NTSA).
The NTSA provides the legal framework to enhance the sharing of resources and exchange of fisheries data and intelligence, including cooperation in investigating and prosecuting operators of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing vessels.
Through the NTIS, Niue submitted a request to the Cook Islands for assistance with maritime surveillance of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which took place from 24th – 28th August 2020 engaging the Cook Islands Police Patrol Boat Te Kukupa. Apart from other usages of the NTIS, OPIC20 was the first operation where NTIS was used between parties to the Agreement, and it was greatly welcomed by the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA).
The FFA Director General, Dr Manumatavai Tupou-Roosen said “Information sharing remains the cornerstone of the Agreement and the FFA’s fight against IUU fishing. We are delighted to see the Cook Islands and Niue extend regional partnership and solidarity to conduct cooperative surveillance for Niue’s call for assistance under the Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement (NTSA). This is the first time that the NTIS has been used to record these arrangements during a surveillance operation, and we congratulate these two Members for taking this significant step.”
“During this challenging period, the Secretariat encourages Members to utilize the NTIS,” added the Director General. “This enables us to build on existing partnerships between FFA members in undertaking a range of cooperative activities in our region.”
The NTIS operations are managed jointly by the Cook Islands Police Service (CIPS) Maritime Division and the Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR). Operations planning was coordinated by CIPS Maritime Operations Officer Senior Sergeant Tuariki Henry, MMR Fisheries Officer Saiasi Sarau, and Niue’s Officials working through border and diplomatic clearances, fuel supply, data sharing requirements, health protocols and procedures, and confirming designated patrol areas within the Niuean EEZ.
Inspector Tepaki Baxter, Commanding Officer of the Cook Islands Police Service Maritime Division said “From the outset of our planning for Operation Island Chief, it made sense to support Niue incorporating activities in their EEZ into our patrol plan, and to enact the NTSA. These efforts were fully supported by Police Commissioner Maara Tetava, and coordinated with the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA).”
“Cross vesting our Officers by Niue for the surveillance operation was an important milestone. It enabled us to act on behalf of our Niuean counterparts and to enforce their maritime regulations. The NTSA is a very important agreement that operationalizes the pooling of our resources across the Pacific, in our work to monitor and protect our marine resources” said Senior Sergeant Henry.
Te Kukupa patrolled a distance of 239 nautical miles through Niue’s Moana Mahu Marine Area. Niue MNR Principal Fisheries Officer Launoa Gataua said “After workshopping the NTIS under the NTSA Framework with FFA, it was good and exciting for Niue to use the system for the first time with one of our neighboring Cook Islands.”
He added “Niue acknowledge the surveillance assistance from the Cook Islands, this is the first monitoring and surveillance of the newly adopted offshore Niue MOANA MAHU Marine Protected Area – covering 40% of Niue’s EEZ. With no Offshore Patrol asset, the NTSA activity reinforces Niue Moana Mahu Marine Protected Area Regulations 2020 and our Compliance Strategy 2018. We look forward to maintaining this excellent partnership for similar operations in the future”.
The Cook Islands and Niue have signed and ratified the Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement alongside 11 other FFA Member countries.