Quarantine officers have taken to the air to ensure yachts visiting from the Pacific meet their biosecurity and Customs requirements upon arrival in New Zealand in a multi-agency operation.
The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has deployed an Orion P-3K2 surveillance aircraft and inshore patrol vessel HMNZS Hawea to support the border patrols. Airborne and maritime patrols started just after Labour Weekend and will continue until the end of 2015.
"Surveillance activities are key to protecting our borders. By supporting these border patrols, we are working to ensure yachts and other small pleasure craft do not visit other areas in New Zealand before going to the approved places of first arrival in Northland," said Air Component Commander Air Commodore Kevin McEvoy.
"The NZDF has always used its air and naval resources to support agencies such as New Zealand Customs, Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and New Zealand Police in monitoring unwelcome arrivals in New Zealand."
The Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) Orion aircraft is carrying out long distance patrols, whilst its helicopters conduct coastal patrols. Patrol boats from Customs and Police and the Royal New Zealand Navy's Hawea are being used to conduct patrols closer to New Zealand.
"We need to make sure that upon entry into New Zealand, yachts do not have biosecurity risk items such as food, rubbish, plants, and live animals that could bring pests and diseases into our country," said Sharon Tohovaka, MPI's North Ports Manager.
Ms Tohovaka said MPI has assigned 4 extra staff to support biosecurity dog teams in Northland with carrying out inspections. Ministry representatives have also been working to raise biosecurity awareness among the yachting community by visiting the 3 main departure ports in Fiji, Noumea, and Tonga.
Customs officials estimate that between 600 and 700 small craft will arrive in New Zealand this year, mostly into the ports of Auckland, Opua, and Whangarei. About 75% of these vessels are likely to arrive between October and December.
"MPI and Customs compliance levels are generally high at 93%, which reflects more than a threefold increase from a decade ago. Nevertheless, the importance of vigilance cannot be overemphasised as criminal organisations anywhere in the world continue to use small craft to smuggle drugs, weapons, and people," said Nick Sparey, Chief Customs Officer.
"Earlier this year, Customs staff trialled the use of the RNZAF's A109 Light Utility Helicopters to conduct close inshore patrols.
"RNZAF helicopters are again being used in conjunction with the Navy's maritime assets this season to give a greater level of coverage and capabilities," Mr Sparey said.