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Fiji could hand French navy policing powers

Expatica - (AFP)

2nd March 2004

Fiji is discussing giving the French Pacific navy extended powers in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to deal with illegal fishing, a naval officer from France said.

"It is a very complex issue but we are now having discussions about allowing us some enforcement powers," Captain Eric Pages, commander of the New Caledonia based frigate Vendemiaire, told AFP Monday.

He said a working arrangement could be in place within a year. France maintains forces in its South Pacific territories of New Caledonia, 1,850 kilometres (1,150 miles) east of Australia with a population of 211,000, and French Polynesia, between New Zealand and South America with a population of 262,000.

France, along with Australian and New Zealand forces, helps monitor Pacific nation EEZs under a joint treaty.

Vendemiaire spent a week in Fijian waters en route to the French territories of Wallis and Futuna, a small island group between Fiji and Samoa. Pages noted his ship regularly sailed through the Pacific.

"Right now I can't do anything except take some pictures and inform your authorities when I spot an illegal fishing boat: your navy would have to then come in and carry out the enforcement phase of the operation," Pages said.

The positive response from local counterparts is not only based on the lack of resources to effectively conduct EEZ surveillance but also on the fuel saved if the French were allowed to arrest and escort illegal fishers to the country whose EEZ has been violated.

Pages said it was also an issue of how much sovereignty Pacific islands country were willing to give up to the French armed forces.

"France is a member of the Pacific family and yes, there has been increased presence recently but there is no intention to intimidate or take over other countries," Pages said.

"We are simply trying to help island countries that do not have the tools to effectively monitor activities in its EEZ."

Fiji, situated between New Zealand and Hawaii, is an archipelago with a population of 845,000 people.