The fight against environmental degradation, illegal fishing and people smuggling in Australia’s remote north-west will be increased with the new Australian Customs Vessel Ashmore Guardian set to become a permanent presence in the area.
Minister for Home Affairs Bob Debus and Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts Peter Garrett said that a new era in surveillance and enforcement would begin today after the vessel sailed from Darwin.
Mr Debus said the 35 metre long, 339 tonne vessel was a specially modified commercial fleet support ship capable of carrying up to ten Customs officers and government officials.
"It will give Customs the ability to conduct operations on a near-continuous basis at the Ashmore Reef and Cartier Island Marine Reserves," Mr Debus said.
Mr Garrett said the presence of the Ashmore Guardian would be a great boost for monitoring and compliance of activities in the Ashmore Reef and Cartier Island Marine Reserves.
"These reserves are internationally significant coral ecosystems that are threatened by illegal fishing," Mr Garrett said.
"Turtles, dugongs, sharks and seabirds use these reserves for feeding and breeding and the presence of the Ashmore Guardian in the area will be an excellent deterrent against illegal fishing.
"We know that illegal fishing for turtle, shark fins, sea cucumbers, trochus and giant clam shells has occurred in the area. The Ashmore Guardian will be a permanent reminder of the Australian Government’s determination to protect this remarkable environment."
The Ashmore Guardian will enhance surveillance and enforcement activities undertaken by Customs and Australian Defence Force aircraft and patrol boats which are coordinated by the Border Protection Command to protect Australia’s offshore maritime areas.
The two marine reserves, covering an area of 750 km2, are about 320 km off the Australian coast but only 150 km south of the Indonesian Island of Roti.
Traditional Indonesian fishermen are allowed to fish in the area under a Memorandum of Understanding between Australia and Indonesia. Within a small area of Ashmore Reserve only limited fishing for personal use is allowed.