Philippine Daily Inquirer

US COAST GUARD: BOARDINGS OF CHINESE FISHING VESSELS IN SOUTH PACIFIC LEGAL

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SYDNEY/WELLINGTON—

The US Coast Guard has rejected comments by a Chinese diplomat that its recent boardings of Chinese fishing boats in the Pacific Islands alongside local police are illegal, saying the joint patrols are at the behest of Pacific nations to protect coastal fisheries.

Reuters reported last month that six Chinese fishing boats were found to be violating Vanuatu’s fisheries law after being inspected by local police who were on board the first US Coast Guard boat to patrol the waters of the Pacific Islands nation.

The US Coast Guard and Kiribati police also boarded two Chinese fishing boats during a patrol in February, the first joint patrol in a decade, but found no issues aboard.

‘Not obliged’

China’s Ambassador to New Zealand Wang Xiaolong said in a letter circulated by the Chinese Embassy on Friday the use of shiprider agreements between the United States and Vanuatu, Kiribati and Papua New Guinea to “carry out law enforcemen­t activities against China’s fishing vessels” was a violation of internatio­nal law.

In the letter, Wang claimed the agreements are not binding on China’s fishing fleet.

“China is not obliged to accept the law enforcemen­t of countries other than coastal states for fishing activities in their exclusive economic zones,” the letter said.

US Coast Guard Rear Adm. Michael Day on Wednesday said the Chinese ambassador’s statement was inaccurate and the bilateral shiprider agreements complied with internatio­nal law.

“We do these boardings at the behest of those host nations who invite us to board, to work with them collaborat­ively in protecting their exclusive economic zones,” he said at a press conference in Honolulu to mark the return of the US Coast Guard cutter Harriet Lane after its Pacific Islands patrol.

‘Dictated by our partners’

“A free and open Indo-Pacific is predicated upon the following of internatio­nal rules and norms and laws, and I am happy to say the coast guard is complying with all internatio­nal law and these are legal boardings.”

Cmdr. Nicole Tesoniero said shiprider agreements with Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea had resulted in 23 boardings of fishing boats operating in the “far reaches of the respective countries’ exclusive economic zones,” with 12 violations found by local police.

“The targeting of vessels within the exclusive economic zones as well as the enforcemen­t actions were all dictated by our partners,” she said.

Navy patrols

The patrol comes after Vanuatu and Solomon Islands, Pacific Island nations with close ties to China, blocked the US Coast Guard from coming to port to refuel in 2022 and 2023 as it undertook a patrol for illegal fishing on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum regional block.

Australia, New Zealand and Britain have also stepped up navy patrols for illegal fishing in partnershi­p with Pacific Islands nations, many of whom do not have militaries or boats to monitor coastal waters and exclusive economic zones spanning millions of kilometers.

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