The Australian government in a bid to curb illegal immigrants entering Australia funded the installation of the Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) in over 4,000 multiday fishing vessels in Sri Lanka and launched the Fisheries Monitoring Centre, recently at the Fisheries Ministry in Colombo 10.
Australia’s Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil and Douglas Devananda, Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development, jointly opened the Fisheries Monitoring Centre.The Australian government agreed to fund 4000 VMS gadgets to enhance maritime domain awareness, build capacity to combat people smuggling, illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing in the region, and play a key role in counter-terrorism efforts.
At the launch of the Centre, Minister O’Neil said fishing vessels should only be used for fishing and not for other activities. Australia and Sri Lanka’s close working relations means that anyone who attempts to get into a boat and try to sail to Australia will be detected and stopped by border authorities.”
He pointed out: “Just in the recent weeks and months, the Australian and Sri Lankan Government have detected and stopped every boat that has tried to sail to another country, saving many lives at sea.”
“I want to reiterate my message to those people who might consider a boat voyage to Australia is simple: Don’t do it. You will not get what you paid for, and you will be worse off. You have zero chance of living and working in Australia without a valid visa.”
According to the Sri Lanka Navy, each illegal immigrant had paid Rs 1million to human smugglers who tried to take them to Australia by boat.
Devananda told Ceylon Today that the Australian government has expressed its seriousness on Sri Lankan immigrants entering Australia illegally using fishing trawlers.
The Minister said there were over 5000 fishing vessels registered with the fisheries ministry and they would need another 1000 VMS as well and that the Australian government has been informed.
“This VMS would also assist Sri Lankan fishermen on the boats to detect distress signals as well as would support the European Union’s recommendations of ethical fishing techniques that would help Sri Lanka to continue to enjoy the GSP Plus concession from the EU. These are the latest techniques used in managing the fisheries industry,” he said. They would be used for 24-hour monitoring that would also assist Australia’s concerns where Sri Lankans are leaving for Australia citing the economic crisis.
He said the current monitoring system was is outdated and needs to be replaced and that these matters have been shared with the Australian government.
Devanada said there were seven trainees from the National Aquaculture Development Authority (NAQDA) who had visited Australia for skills training and have now requested the Australian government for assistance to boost soft skills and a zonal plan for aquaculture.
The Australian High Commission in Colombo noted that Australia and Sri Lanka share longstanding close and cooperative bilateral relations built on common interests in regional security, a shared history of cooperation and strong people-to-people links.
“Australia is committed to supporting Sri Lanka’s efforts to strengthen its border management capacity. We are firm partners in dealing with the challenges of transnational organised crime such as Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, piracy, terrorism, and people smuggling,” the High Commission said.
Further, the High Commission noted that the Fisheries Monitoring Centre was an important component that will enable Sri Lankan authorities to monitor vessels. This will provide a lifeline for vessels requiring assistance. This will also assist the Fisheries Ministry to monitor and ensure that fishing stocks are not exploited and overfished. This is critical for sustainable management of fisheries resources, and to ensure that Sri Lanka is an active participant in global efforts to protect marine ecosystems.
By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan