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Monday, 11 November 2002
Page: 6016


Senator Chris Evans asked the Minister for Forestry and Conservation, upon notice, on 19 August 2002:

(1) What are the terms on which the Australian Fisheries Management Authority charters the Southern Supporter, including the following details: (a) how many patrols the vessel is contracted to operate annually; (b) how lengthy the patrols are (ie. number of seagoing days); (c) the value of the contract (ie. what the Commonwealth pays for this service); (d) whether there are any performance measures for provision of the service (eg. number of suspected illegal vessels apprehended etc.); and (e) whether there are any penalties if the Southern Supporter cannot, for any reason, patrol for as many seagoing days as it is supposed to.

(2) What was the total number of seagoing days of the Southern Supporter for each of the 2000-01 and 2001-02 financial years.

(3) Can the following details be provided in relation to the Southern Supporter for each of the 2000-01 and 2001-02 financial years: (a) the number of vessels intercepted; (b) how many were suspected of illegally fishing in Australian waters; (c) how many vessels were boarded or searched; (d) how many were apprehended; and (e) how many had their fishing equipment and catch seized.

(4) Can a physical description of the Southern Supporter, including the capabilities and the following details, be provided: (a) the length of the vessel; (b) crew size; (c) how many people beyond the crew can be accomodated and carried; (d) ability of the crew to board another vessel; (e) whether the vessel carries any inflatable boats or dinghies for the purpose of rescue or apprehension operations; (f) whether the vessel can carry a helicopter; if so, whether it usually does on patrols; and (g) patrol range of the vessel.

(5) Is the vessel capable of operating across the entire Southern Ocean; if not, what are its geographical limits.

(6) Are there any plans to continue the funding of the Southern Supporter beyond 2003; if not, are there plans to hire or lease other vessels for patrolling the Southern Ocean and the Australian Antarctic Territory.

(7) Has there been any evaluation done of the contract for the Southern Supporter; if so, what were the results.


Senator Ian Macdonald (Minister for Forestry and Conservation) —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

(1) (a) Patrol frequency is important tactical information and if made public could compromise future monitoring, surveillance and enforcement activity by Australia against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activity at Heard Island and the McDonald Islands (HIMI). (b) Patrol duration is important tactical information and if made public could compromise future monitoring, surveillance and enforcement activity by Australia against IUU fishing activity at HIMI. (c) The last Deed of Standing Offer between P&O Maritime Services Pty Ltd and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) expired on 30 June 2002 and a new Standing Deed of Offer is currently under negotiation. Historically, pursuant to the Deed of Standing Offer, AFMA enters into a contract with P&O Maritime Services Pty Ltd for charter of the Southern Supporter, on a patrol-by-patrol basis. Detail of the contract with the vessel provider, P&O Maritime Services Pty Ltd, including the total value of the contract, is commercial-in-confidence information. (d) There is no formally agreed performance evaluation framework in place for each contract. Each contract is evaluated informally and on an ongoing basis after each patrol and when each new contract is agreed to provide for the evolving operational needs of Commonwealth authorities in combating IUU fishing activity at HIMI. (e) The terms of the contract provide for a reduction in charges for non-performance of the Southern Supporter.

(2) Historical data concerning the total number of seagoing days of the Southern Supporter is important tactical information and if made public could compromise future monitoring, surveillance and enforcement activity by Australia against IUU fishing activity at HIMI.

(3) (a) Two vessels were intercepted by the Southern Supporter during the period in question, the South Tomi in 2000-01 and the Lena in 2001-02. (b) Both the South Tomi and Lena were suspected of fishing illegally in Australian waters. Following the apprehension of both vessels, the Masters and a number of senior crewmembers of the South Tomi and the Lena were successfully prosecuted for illegal fishing in Australian waters. Both vessels and the catch on board have also been forfeited to the Commonwealth.

During an extended hot pursuit of the Lena by the Southern Supporter, two vessels, the Florence and the Volga, assisted the Lena by firstly broadcasting bogus Emergency Position Indicating Rescue Beacon (EPIRB) signals in an attempt to get the Southern Supporter to break off its hot pursuit. The Florence also re-fuelled the Lena. Whilst there had not been any recorded observations of the Florence or the Volga fishing in the Australian fishing zone (AFZ) around HIMI at that time, both vessels were strongly suspected of involvement in IUU fishing. The Royal Australian Navy subsequently apprehended the Volga for suspected illegal fishing in Australian waters earlier this year. Legal proceedings concerning the apprehension of the Volga are still before the Australian Courts.

(c) No operations to board or search other vessels were undertaken from the Southern Supporter during 2000-01 or 2001-02.

(d) No vessels were apprehended by the Southern Supporter during 2000-01 and 2001-02. Subsequent military operations directly related to the Southern Supporter patrols led to the apprehension of the South Tomi in April 2001, and the Lena and Volga in February 2002.

(e) In terms of patrols undertaken by the Southern Supporter, no vessels had their fishing equipment or catch seized during 2000-01 or 2001-02.

(4) (a) The overall length of the Southern Supporter is 75.4 metres. (b) The Southern Supporter accommodates a crew of thirteen. (c) Besides the crew there is accommodation for an additional 34 passengers in one and two berth cabins. There is also a two-bed hospital. (d) Boarding capability is important tactical information and if made public could compromise future monitoring, surveillance and enforcement activity by Australia against IUU fishing activity at HIMI. (e) The Southern Supporter routinely carries a number of ancillary craft including a 7.7 m aluminium workboat, a 5.5 m craft and a 4.3 m craft. While under charter to AFMA this configuration does change depending on the circumstances of each patrol. (f) The helideck permits full operation of a Bell 412 helicopter. In terms of whether the vessel carries a helicopter on patrol in the sub-Antarctic, operational capability is important tactical information and if made public could compromise future monitoring, surveillance and enforcement activity by Australia against IUU fishing activity at HIMI. (g) The Southern Supporter has a 14,000 nautical miles/50 days endurance capability.

(5) Yes. The Southern Supporter is on the Lloyd's Register and has 100A1 Ice Class 1A + LMC Special Purpose rating. However, the Southern Supporter is not an icebreaker and is limited in its range to that extent.

(6) The terms of reference for the recently established high level policy group include the directive to provide advice and reports to relevant Ministers on illegal fishing issues and to implement the Government's response to combat IUU fishing and protect the HIMI fishery. A final decision regarding future surveillance, monitoring and enforcement activity by Australia in the Southern Ocean will be considered late this year in the context of implementation of the overall strategy and in light of advice of the efficiency and effectiveness of the civil charter and RAN patrols undertaken to date.

(7) There has been no formal evaluation of the contract of the Southern Supporter to date. However, the performance of the vessel is evaluated after each patrol and when the contract is renewed. These reviews have resulted in improved operational arrangements where required. To date the performance of the vessel has met expectations.