Coast Guard officer represents U.S. at bilateral law enforcement agreement signing in Tonga

NUKU’ALOFA, Tonga — A senior U.S. Coast Guard officer and a senior member of Tonga’s government yesterday signed a bilateral agreement that will strengthen both countries’ ability to enforce laws within Tonga’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Va’inga Tone, Tonga’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, and Rear Adm. Manson K. Brown, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard’s 14th District headquartered in Honolulu, signed the bilateral agreement that means Tongan officials may ride U.S. Coast Guard vessels in order to conduct law enforcement missions within Tonga’s EEZ.

U.S. Coast Guard cutters based in Honolulu and Guam frequently transit through EEZs of Pacific Islands nations. Brown is the U.S. Coast Guard’s senior officer for the Pacific. 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 Cook Islands, and the Republic of Kiribati.

The goal of these bilateral agreements, said both Tone and Brown, is to build law enforcement 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 allow maritime law enforcement officers from island nations to use U.S. Coast Guard ships as platforms from which to conduct boardings of commercial vessels operating in their respective EEZs. This enables Pacific Island countries without patrol assets to perform critical law enforcement missions.

Staff officers at the 14th District have 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 yesterday’s 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, whose 14th 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.”

In the past year alone, U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement personnel from the 14th District have conducted joint operations with several different Pacific Island countries, including Palau, FSM, RMI, Kiribati, and the Cook Islands. Today’s signing makes six different ship rider agreements between the U.S. and Pacific Island nations.

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