Australian mining magnate and chairman of the Minderoo Foundation, Andrew Forrest, is working with Palau's President, Tommy Remengesau, to find out how to better police its exclusive economic zone or EEZ.
But, how do the drones work and what's the technology that could revolutionise fishing in the Pacific?
Presenter: Richard Ewart
Speaker: Jack Kormas, Aerosonde's Australian director of operations
KORMAS: We've been manufacturing these, well you guys call them drones, we call them unmanned aircraft. And we've been using them for 21 years in a civilian market space. We've been sort of using them for meteorological and scientific experiments all over the world. But it is a first for using them for illegal fishing.
EWART: And in terms of how they could improve the situation in the Pacific, what can they do in terms of the territory they can cover, how far can they go, what sort of images can they get?
KORMAS: The aircraft can actually fly up to about three-thousand kilometres and it can stay up in the air for 24 hours plus. It's a very highly capable little aircraft, it has a three-and-a-half metre wingspan, and it's very highly fuel efficient. It's able to send back video of any illegal fishing activities, it's able to send back high definition still imagery of those illegal fishing activities. So the President actually invited us to Palau to be able to demonstrate that capability, which is what we recently did. And it was quite a successful demonstration, and he was extremely pleased with the evidence that we could gather, and all that photographic evidence he wants to be able to use in a court of law.
EWART: Now I would presume that the way this would work would be that the unmanned aircraft or drone, ,whichever name you prefer to give them, would perform a monitoring role if you like, and once they've spotted a vessel that was out there apparently fishing illegally, that they would track that vessel back to its home port before the authorities moved in?
KORMAS: Well I don't think we'll be tracking it back to its own port. What we will be doing is taking that photographic evidence showing the vessel doing any illegal activities. I don't think we'll be tracking back to the port because the port will be back in their own territorial waters. So we're going to be monitoring and surveilling the Palauan exclusive economic zone. So any boats entering into that exclusive zone will be able to then photograph, see what they're doing, take on board all of that evidence and then if they're doing something illegal the Palauan government will be able to use that evidence and then prosecute the offenders in a court of law.
EWART: So is there a suggestion here that once the alarm bells start ringing as it were, that the authorities in Palau would attempt to intercept these boats if possible, obviously it very much depends on where they were at the time?
KORMAS: Absolutely yeah, so we're going to work in conjunction with their patrol boat, their marine law patrol boat. So if there's an offender out there in the waters we'll be able to firstly find the illegal fishing boat, we'll be able to determine its geo-reference coordinates using GPS data, and then send that back to the team at the marine law centre and then they'll be able to then go and apprehend the actual illegal fishing vessel.
EWART: Now there is a meeting taking place at the moment in Vanuatu working on what they're describing as a roadmap of fishing in the Pacific in the years ahead. Could you see this kind of operation being adopted across the region? Would it be feasible to do that?
KORMAS: Yeah absolutely, absolutely. This technology can be used by all of the Pacific nations and they'll be able to protect their own waters from illegal fishing. It is not just solely I guess the product of Palau, but we demonstrate in Palau to be able to show to all the Pacific nations that this piece of technology is capable of being used anywhere within the Pacific to uphold their exclusive economic zones and their boundaries.