Japan, U.S., Australia may aid Micronesia ocean surveillance

by Kazuaki Nagata

Japan, Australia and the United States plan, possibly with coast guard elements, to jointly support Micronesian nations’ efforts to boost their marine surveillance to combat poaching, pollution and other problems, participants said Tuesday at a Tokyo meeting.

Palau, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia have been troubled with such issues but have not been able to bolster their sea patrol capacity due to lack of funds and equipment.

The support proposed at Tuesday’s meeting would include small vessels, advanced communications equipment and the creation of a regional coordination center for the three island nations to enhance mutual operations.

The role Tokyo and and the Japan Coast Guard may play in the effort have yet to be decided, but it could be the first time the JCG monitors a large expanse of the Western Pacific, instead of just the Northwest Pacific as at present, according to Jiro Hanyu, chairman of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation who was among the organizers of the meeting.

“It is a good framework where the (coast guards of) Japan, the U.S. and Australia along with the Micronesian nations communicate with each other in this area,” he said.

The six nations plan to continue discussions with the goal of working out an operational plan by fall that can be put into practice in April 2011.

“(This initiative) is going to enhance our capacity to ensure that the illegal activities going on in our exclusive economic zone as well as our territorial 12-mile zone will be alleviated,” said Francis Itimai, transportation, communications and infrastructure minister of the Federated States of Micronesia.

The three island nations’ EEZs encompass more than 5.5 million square km, collectively the third-largest in the world, and ensuring their security, particularly in connection with that of nearby Guam, and the safety of the sea routes through them are vital tasks and in Japan’s interest.