2021 saw new and major policy and frameworks in the Indo-Pacific made by many countries and regional groupings, both within and outside the region. Among others, the European Union (EU) outlined its very comprehensive strategy for the Indo-Pacific region in March 2021, and adopted the final version through a joint communication in September last year, outlining ocean governance as one of the seven priority areas.
The Pacific, in particular faces an ever-growing range of security challenges, adding up to limited maritime law enforcement capacities. The small island nations suffer from deficiencies in supporting infrastructure that could reinforce maritime law enforcement operations against illicit activities like drug smuggling, human trafficking, and illegal, unreported, and unregistered (IUU) fishing. As a result of this gap in enforcement capacity, IUU fishing has proven particularly costly to South Pacific island nations in terms of environmental impact, catch-rates, and national GDPs.
Having no respect for borders, transnational maritime threats continually emerge and evolve to present significant security challenges. Most coastal states have some MDA capacity, but there are currently only two fully operative NMFCs in the Indo-Pacific that come close to fulfilling the mandate expected of such an agency: the Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) in India and the Singapore Information Fusion Centre (IFC).
In the Pacific Ocean, the Australia-backed Pacific Fusion Centre (PFC) in Vanuatu’s capital, Port-Vila, focuses four workstreams: sharing strategic intelligence with Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) members by providing strategic assessments from open-source and unclassified official data and external experts from Australia, Pacific islands and international agencies; a self-service web portal for the sharing of open-source information available from media monitoring and an unclassified geospatial portal to increase domain awareness; the development of national and regional
analytical capacity and security coordination in the Pacific; and facilitating the sharing of information and strategic intelligence. The PFC has only recently commenced permanent operations in Vanuatu (December 2021), after an interim period of operations from Canberra since September 2019.
Persuading states to use a common operating information platform is a very difficult and sensitive task because nations are reluctant to use software that has been developed externally. Moreover, layered on this issue are incompatibilities between different cryptography and communication technology systems. Notwithstanding the challenge, EU has financed the development of the IORIS platform, a neutral and secure regional information sharing tool for use across the Indo-Pacific, being implemented by CRIMARIO. Since the EU is seeking to increase synergies with likeminded partners, both IORIS and CRIMARIO have been included in the Strategy for the Indo-Pacific, as a means to enhance intraregional cooperation by offering capacity-building opportunities. CRIMARIO is also developing the SHARE-IT Interoperability Framework, a tool that would facilitate the connection among information fusion centres that already have an info-exchange system in place, aiming to further increase maritime domain awareness and tackle common challenges at sea.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the European Union or its members.
Picture from: PerthUSAsia Centre