Coast Guard Admiral Signs Bilateral Law Enforcement Agreement with Cook Islands

APIA, Samoa – Cook Islands Foreign Minister Wilkie Rasmussmen and Rear Adm. Manson K. Brown, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Fourteenth District headquartered in Honolulu, signed an agreement July 25, which improves law enforcement capabilities in the Cook Islands exclusive economic zone, or EEZ.

The bilateral agreement means Cook Islands law enforcement personnel may ride U.S. Coast Guard vessels in order to conduct law enforcement missions within the Cook Islands EEZ.

U.S. Coast Guard Cutters based in Honolulu and Guam frequently transit through EEZs of Pacific Islands nations. The new agreement is similar to bilateral ship rider agreements already in place between the U.S. and Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

The goal of these bilateral agreements, said both Rasmussen and Brown, is to build capacity and strengthen interoperability among Pacific Island countries. As the threat of illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing increases in the vast Pacific region, multilateral cooperation is essential to maintaining sustainable fishery stocks and combating transnational crime, they say.

Ship rider agreements mean law enforcement agents from that country may use U.S. Coast Guard ships as platforms from which to conduct boardings of commercial vessels found in Pacific Island nations’ EEZs. This enables Pacific Island countries without robust coast guard or naval assets to perform critical law enforcement missions and fisheries patrols.

The Fourteenth District has led a U.S. effort toward fostering and improving maritime security cooperation in the Pacific by instituting the “Ship Rider Program” last year. Brown represented the U.S. during the signing.

“Our strategic intent is to strengthen cooperation with Pacific Island partners in order to build a maritime security network in the Pacific,” said Brown.  The Fourteenth District encompasses 12.2 million square miles of the Pacific and includes nine separate U.S. EEZs. “Bilateral ship rider agreements are an important step in realizing that goal.”

Foreign Minister Rasmussen and Rear Admiral Brown were in Samoa on the occasion of a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice which brought together foreign ministers of 16 Pacific Island countries for a discussion on maritime security cooperation and other common issues in the Pacific Region.

In the past year alone, U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement personnel from the Fourteenth District have conducted joint operations with several different Pacific Island countries, including Palau, FSM, RMI, Kiribati, and the Cook Islands.

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