26 March 2018

Media release from the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and Australian Border Force

Maritime Border Command (MBC), a multi-agency taskforce within the Australian Border Force (ABF), working closely with the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) has apprehended two Papua New Guinean (PNG) banana boats in the Torres Strait for suspected illegal fishing.

The ABF, working under the operational command of MBC, apprehended the first vessel earlier this month, in the shallow waters of Saibai Island, in the far north of the Torres Strait.

Two PNG vessels were apprehended in the Torres Strait for illegal fishing in March 2018

Four PNG nationals were later interviewed by AFMA in relation to unlicensed commercial fishing for crab and tropical rock lobster. As a result, the boat, the catch and equipment on board, were seized.

The second vessel was sighted by an MBC surveillance aircraft on Thursday 15 March, inside the Torres Strait Protected Zone, and was intercepted by Australian Border Force Cutter Cape Wessel, near Warrior Reef.

The four crew were found to be in possession of 80 tropical rock lobster tails, far in excess of the permitted quantity of six. Their boat, catch and equipment were seized and the master and crew handed over to PNG officials for further investigation. Under the terms of the Torres Strait Treaty, PNG nationals suspected of fishing illegally in Australian waters are repatriated to PNG for processing.

AFMA’s General Manager of Operations, Peter Venslovas, said that AFMA and the ABF have provided evidence packs to PNG officials for both apprehensions to assist with their prosecution.

“We are aware of the additional considerations that need to be taken into account under the terms of the Torres Strait Treaty, to allow the traditional way of life for PNG villagers and Torres Strait Islanders to continue,” Mr Venslovas said.

“However, these considerations will not prevent swift and decisive action from being taken when necessary, and there will be no leeway given to those who break the law.”

Commander Maritime Border Command, Rear Admiral Peter Laver said Torres Strait Islanders and PNG nationals should expect to see more AFMA and ABF officers on the water, monitoring activities.

“The collaboration between the agencies will help to ensure these far northern waters are monitored and protected for future generations,” Rear Admiral Laver said.

“Should anyone hold any concerns relating to fishing, customs or immigration issues in the Torres Strait, we would encourage reporting it to Border Watch or to local AFMA or ABF offices in your area.”

Anyone with information about suspicious behaviour relating to activities such as illegal immigration, customs or border-related activities can report it online at homeaffairs.gov.au/borderwatch. You can provide information anonymously.


Background on the Torres Strait Treaty

The Torres Strait Treaty defines the border between Australia and Papua New Guinea and provides a framework for the management of the common border area. The Treaty protects the ways of life of traditional inhabitants in the Torres Strait Protected Zone (TSPZ).

The main reason for the Protected Zone is so that Torres Strait Islanders and the coastal people of Papua New Guinea can carry on their traditional way of life.

When it comes to fishing rights, the Treaty:

  • makes sure that commercial fishing in the Protected Zone is in harmony with traditional fishing.
  • provides for commercial fishing by both Australia and Papua New Guinea.
  • includes arrangements for the sharing of commercial catch.
  • allows both countries to work together in licensing and policing as well as in the preservation, protection and management of fisheries

With regard to immigration, a special provision of the Treaty allows free movement (without passports or visas) between Australia and Papua New Guinea for traditional activities. This is only for Torres Strait Islanders and for coastal people from Papua New Guinea who live in and keep the traditions of the region.

Traditional inhabitants from Australia and Papua New Guinea, in consultation with their governments, agreed on 13 Papua New Guinea villages to have free movement privileges under the Treaty.

Media enquiries:

Australian Fisheries Management Authority 0437 869 860  or media@afma.gov.au

Australian Border Force (02) 6264 2244