Navy granted power to shoot at illegal fishers
The Age (Melbourne)
December 7, 2006
THE navy has been given permission to fire at illegal fishing boats that refuse to be apprehended in Australian waters.
Under new rules of engagement approved by Defence Minister Brendan Nelson, the navy will also be given tear gas, capsicum spray and abrasive acoustic devices.
“The foreign fishing vessels that are coming to our country are increasingly sophisticated,” Dr Nelson told Parliament yesterday. “They are engaging in activities which are very dangerous to our personnel and indeed to our patrol boats, including using very large sharpened poles (and) the throwing of missiles.
“It is extremely important that anybody who comes to this country seeking to steal our fish and breach our sovereignty knows that they will be met with a very strong, disciplined Royal Australian Navy.”
Dr Nelson ordered a review of the navy responses to illegal vessels in May after hearing concerns of sailors. It was carried out by Defence Force head Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston and navy chief Vice-Admiral Russ Shalders.
Navy patrols were previously only allowed to fire a shot over the bow of illegal vessels that refused apprehension. The new rules enable them to disable a vessel by targeting its engine or rudder.
“It should be emphasised that before any disabling direct fire is undertaken, significant trials have been undertaken and, of course, it would not under any circumstances be knowingly done in threatening human life,” Dr Nelson said.
The Federal Opposition welcomed the new rules, but said rules of engagement for defence and customs vessels remained discordant. A spokesman for shadow homeland security minister Arch Bevis said Australia needed a separate agency or coast guard to take the sole job of patrolling Australia's waters.
Most of the illegal fishing boats come from Indonesia. A spokesman for the Indonesian embassy said it did not have “any issues at the moment” with the navy's new rules.
But he stressed that “before shooting, they should give signals they should give out several warning shots (shooting) would be a last resort.”
In emphasising the dangers facing navy patrols, Dr Nelson said a sailor trying to board a retreating illegal fishing vessel last year was left hanging from its stern.