Pacific patrol boat program

Pacific patrol boat program


Australia’s Pacific Patrol Boat Program began in the 1980s, following the declaration by Pacific island states of a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The Australian government announced the supply of initially 10 patrol boats to members of the Pacific Islands Forum, with the first delivered to Papua New Guinea in 1987. The program was later extended, with the final 22nd vessel being delivered in 1997. Between 1997 and 2003 a comprehensive half-life refit was conducted on each boat. In 2000, the Howard government announced that it would extend the Patrol Boat program, costing $350 million over a 25 year period from 2002 to 2027.

As well as provision of the patrol boats, the program is supported by the deployment of Royal Australian Navy Maritime Surveillance Advisors, who are based in-country.

The Defence Co-operation Program became controversial through the 1990s with Australian supplied patrol boats and helicopters used for the blockade of Bougainville. Australian military aid to the PNGDF in the early limited the ways in which Australia was perceived as an honest broker in ending the conflict. In June 2000, the Australian-supplied patrol boat Lata in Solomon Islands was also used by Malaitan militias to attack Guadalcanal villages.

Government sources


Minister of Defence Visit to Solomon Islands, Minister for Defence John Faulkner, media release MIN 8/09, 16 July 2009

The Minister for Defence, Senator John Faulkner today visited the Solomon Islands. …Senator Faulkner was accompanied by the Chief of Joint Operations, Lieutenant General Mark Evans. Senator Faulkner and Lieutenant General Evans were also briefed on the Defence-sponsored Pacific Patrol Boat Program, which has provided two patrol boats to assist with protection of resources within the Solomon Islands Exclusive Economic Zone.”

Pacific Patrol Boat Life Extension Program continues with Tonga’s Voea Neiafu, Department of Defence Media release, 24 February 2009

The Life Extension Program (LEP) is responsible for doubling the life expectancy of the PPBs. While they were originally designed to last for 15 years, each boat should now last 30. The LEP refit provides the PPBs with improved design features, including a modified hull, updated electronic systems, complete engine overhauls, renovated or new fittings, structural modifications to facilitate easier ships husbandry and advanced fresh water and air-conditioning systems. The LEP refit process takes approximately six months. …Since 2003, 11 PPBs have successfully undertaken the Life Extension Program refit in North Queensland, the last returning to homeport in December 2008.”


Defence Report 2007-08, Volume 1, Department of Defence, p84

The Pacific Patrol Boat Program has been operating in the South Pacific since May 1987 when Australia gifted the first of 22 boats to 12 Pacific Island countries. The program provides participating countries with a maritime surveillance and response capability to monitor and manage their exclusive economic zones and protect marine resources. The boats are also used in quarantine enforcement, search and rescue, disaster relief, medical evacuation support, and general police work. While the boats are crewed and operated by the participating nations, the Navy provides 32 resident maritime surveillance advisers and technical advisers to assist with boat operations and skills development.

Defence has provided funding for infrastructure and logistics, training and skills support and general assistance to sustain this capability; in- 2007-08, this totalled $12.2m. In 2007-08, Defence also funded major refit works to extend the planned life of two of the boats by a further 15 years. This life extension program will continue until 2012.

[In 2007-08] Australia supported five successful multilateral operations involving 14 regional countries and 21 Pacific Patrol Boats, with additional support from New Zealand, France and the United States. Personnel from the Navy and three Air Force aircraft contributed to these operations.”

Australia and Solomon Islands Work Together to Protect the Pacific, Minister for Defence Joel Fitzgibbon, media release 120/08, 10 September 2008

Australia provided 22 Patrol Boats to 12 Pacific nations from 1987 to 1997 as part of the Defence Cooperation Program.  They are used by Pacific Island Nations for maritime surveillance, search and rescue, and operations in support of their local military, police and fisheries agencies. Defence contributes more than $27 million annually to the PPB Program.  Of this, more than $12 million is expended in direct support of the Pacific Patrol Boats.

“Solomon Islands’ Exclusive Economic Zone is one of the largest in the Pacific, and the presence of the PPBs has been effective in deterring illegal fishing in the area.  The PPBs are operated by the Solomon Islands Police Force (SIPF) Maritime Unit. Defence is committed to the Pacific Patrol Boat Program until 2027 and provides all maintenance, logistics support and training, as well as specialist Royal Australian Navy (RAN) personnel in the countries where the PPBs are based.”

Greater Regional Cooperation through the Pacific Patrol Boat Program, Department of Defence media release 143/08, 15 May 2008

“Another successful operation involving Pacific Patrol Boats was recently carried out as part of the Operation Rai Balang series. Operation Rai Balang 01/08 involved two Australian-donated Pacific Patrol Boats of the Republic of Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia and funding from the Australian Defence Cooperation Program….Under ‘shiprider’ agreements between the participating Pacific island countries and the United States, Palauan and Micronesian patrol boat personnel embarked on the 225 foot ocean going buoy tender to conduct law enforcement activities in their respective Exclusive Economic Zones.  …Shiprider agreements enable skills transfer and also increase the number of boardings undertaken by patrol boat crews.

“The Pacific Patrol Boat is the centrepiece of Pacific nations’ maritime security capability.  The Operation Rai Balang series is an excellent example of effective regional cooperation to protect and manage regional fisheries and deter transnational crime.…Royal Australian Navy Maritime Surveillance Advisers to the Republic of Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia mentor patrol boat crew and provide guidance and assistance during the planning and conduct of the operation.”

Howard government (1996-2007)

Pacific Island Forum outcome, Prime Minister John Howard, Hansard, 31 October 2000, p21687

“I was able to demonstrate Australia’s strong commitment to the Pacific islands region in a number of ways. I announced a 25 year extension of the Pacific Patrol Boat Program at a cost of $350 million from 2002 to 2027….”

Pacific Patrol Boat Project Extended, Minister for Defence John Moore, Media release Min317/00, 30 October 2000

The Minister for Defence, John Moore, today welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement that the Pacific Patrol Boat (PPB) Project will be extended for a further 25 years. With the first Pacific Patrol Boat due to reach the end of its planned 15 year life in 2002, Australia has offered to extend the life of each of the 22 Pacific Patrol Boats so that they are able to operate for a total of 30 years. This life extension program will extend Australia’s involvement in the project out to 2027 at an estimated cost of $350 million. The life extension program will involve a major capital upgrade to each boat, and Australia will continue to provide training, advisory and maintenance support over the period of the life extension program.

“Extending Australia’s involvement in the Pacific Patrol Boat project for another quarter-century represents Australia’s most significant defence commitment to the South Pacific and illustrates Australia’s strong commitment to meeting the security challenges of the region.”

Helping our Pacific neighbours protect vital assets, Andy Anderson, Defence magazine, August 2005

In the 20 years since the contract was let for the first Pacific Class patrol boats, the program has expanded to be one of Australia’s longest running and most effective regional assistance initiatives. The Pacific Patrol Boat Program (PPBP) now covers 22 vessels in 12 countries. Assisting Pacific Island nations to protect their maritime territories is a major strategic engagement activity, managed by Strategy Group’s International Policy Division.”

The Pacific Patrol Boat Program, Semaphore, February 2005

The Pacific Patrol Boat Project has been beneficial for the ADF in general, and the RAN in particular. The development of self-reliant regional maritime patrol forces is significantly improving the response to resource violations in South-West Pacific EEZs. Strengthened regional relations and increased maritime patrol capabilities help maintain Australia’s sovereignty and SLOCs, as well as contributing positively to regional stability and maritime security cooperation.”

List of Australian Maritime Surveillance Advisors (MSA), Forum Fisheries Agency

Maritime Surveillance Adviser – LCDR from the Royal Australian Navy posted to certain locations to provide operational support to the PPB Program. There are 12 MSA‘s posted throughout the region in direct support of the Pacific Class Patrol Boats…”

PPB program, Forum Fisheries Agency

“In addition to providing the patrol boats, Australia has conducted training for personnel intended to operate the PPBs, giving them the skills to conduct surveillance operations with minimal external input. This training has come from two sources. The Department of Defence has provided training through its International Navigation and Navigator Yeoman courses, as well as more general management, staff and operational courses. The Australian Maritime College (AMC) in Launceston, Tasmania has provided many courses in maritime technical, seamanship, communications and management subjects in support of the PPB Project. Since 1998, the AMC has conducted 32 courses per year for the PPB Project at an annual cost to the Australian government of approximately $A1.5m.”

Commentary and analysis

Law and order at sea in the South Pacific – The contribution of the Pacific Patrol Boat Project, Sam Bateman and Anthony Bergin, AUS CSCAP Newsletter No.8

“Australia’s strategic presence and interest in the region is more widely recognised since the introduction of the PPBs. Partly this is due to the role of the Australian naval advisers, partly because the boats enjoy a visible presence in many island harbours and partly because Prime Ministers, government officials, senior police and other VIPs use the boats for special occasions and for VIP transport. The most valuable part of the project, as far as Australia is concerned, are the people that go with the PPBs, and the personal networks created. The naval advisers give Australia a presence right through the region. They are valued by the island maritime agencies for their help in-country, providing a facilitating role in identifying training and developing a more mature maritime enforcement arm.”

The Pacific Patrol Boat Project, Midshipman Steve Bell, RAN, Papers in Australian Maritime Affairs No. 16, 2005

Although Australia does not operate the PPB, the project has provided a number of RAN posting opportunities. Positions have been established for one officer and one or two senior sailors, as operational and technical advisers, in each island nation operating the PPB. The RAN advisory teams aim to assist in the development of sustainable maritime surveillance capabilities, whilst also providing assistance and support for personnel operating PPBs, and ongoing training for their effective operation. The advisers concentrate on factors including command and control, surveillance and maintenance and repair of the vessels. Additionally, the RAN has provided infrastructure and support for the PPBs through wharf and support facility construction and the progressive establishment of 17 Maritime Surveillance Communications Network Centres throughout the region.”

A Pacific Engaged, Report of the Senate Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, 2003, p188

Evidence to the Committee suggested that the Defence Cooperation Program has at times been controversial. For instance, it was the Australian supplied patrol boats and helicopters that were used for the blockade of Bougainville and in 2000, the Solomon Islands boat was co–opted by Malaitan militias against Guadalcanal villages.”

Rebels shell rivals from Australian patrol boat, PNG Post Courier online, June 2000

“Guerrillas who overthrew the Solomon Islands government [June 2000] today commandeered an Australian-donated patrol boat and shelled opposing guerrilla fighters near the capital, Honiara. Unconfirmed reports said there had been injuries, with anything between 50 and 100 men killed or wounded. Diplomatic sources could not confirm the reports late this morning. However, Carole Colville, editor of the private Solomon Star newspaper, confirmed that MEF guerrillas and allied elements of the paramilitary Solomon Islands Field Force commandeered the patrol boat “Lata” at dawn today.”

Crisis in Solomon Islands, PNG Post Courier online, June 2000

“Yesterday [June 2000], a reported 1,000 people were involved in a shootout near the island’s international airport 10 km east of the capital, Honiara. After securing the area around the airport, the Malaita rebels early today deployed a stolen police patrol boat and with the cannon were ‘indiscriminately shooting’ at coastal villages near the airport, according to a New Zealand official in the Solomon Islands. The 50-milimetre shells hit the Nazareth Apostolic Centre, a school, but there were no details on whether anyone had been hurt, the official said, speaking to The Associated Press on condition his name not be used.”

Updated: 24 August 2009