The BIOT Patrol Vessel, the Pacific Marlin, is based in Diego Garcia. It is presently operated by the Swire Pacific Offshore Group under a 4 year contract with the BIOT Administration which was renewed on 1 Jan 2011.
The Pacific Marlin was built in 1978 as an ocean going tug. It is 57.7 metres long with a draft of 3.8 metres and gross tonnage 1,200. It has a maximum speed of 12.5 knots with an economic speed of 11 knots, permitting a range of about 18,000 nautical miles and fuel endurance of 68 days. It is the oldest vessel in the Swire fleet. [For more details see the files at the bottom of this page].
Between 2006 - 2011 (17 tours) the Pacific Marlin tasking was as follows:
Brit Ops = British Operations (periodic military tour of the outer islands)
BIOTA = BIOT Administration
As can be seen from these figures, the Pacific Marlin spends just 54% of any one year on Fishery Patrol duties and a further 19% on military patrol duties. As a comparison, typical resource availability for fishery patrol undertaken in the UK fisheries zone is 65-75%, with 100% availability possible by the use of multiple patrol vessels.
Resources and problems for the new MPA
At a scientific meeting at the Linnean Society in London on 24 Nov 2011, Alistair Gammell from the Pew Foundation, publicly suggested that for the enforcement of the new Marine Protected Area (MPA), the resources of the US, using military aircraft at Diego Garcia and 'spy-satellites', might be available, adding that the FCO would neither confirm nor deny that this was the case. In the absence of FCO confirmation, Mr Gammell's musings would appear highly fanciful. The Pacific Marlin remains the only asset.
For the Pacific Marlin to transit from one side of the MPA to the other (approx 832km or 449nm) would take about 1.5 days at maximum speed, or more realistically over 2 days at cruising speed. The size of the MPA can best be appreciated by drawing a circle of this size on a map of the UK:
Even in 2008 the Chagos Conservation Trust remarked that:
“There should be increased surveillance for conservation protection. One fisheries protection vessel is inadequate for such a huge area; the single patrol vessel appears to be struggling with its (necessary and important) multiple tasks. Rapid response is needed to prevent the pressure for poaching. The retasking of the FPV as the BIOT Support Vessel is a very positive step; but it is unlikely that the single vessel will be sufficient in future.”
In addition, the location of the vessel’s base on Diego Garcia in the southeast of the archipelago means that a large portion of the MPA lies to the north and west, exposing these areas, which are rich in coral reefs and atolls and include the disputed Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) boundary with the Maldives, to exploitation by illegal fishing vessels, particularly from Sri Lanka.
The annual expenditure on this Patrol Vessel has been reasonably consistent in recent years and in 2009 was £1.4M. Total fisheries expenditure (Admin + Patrol Vessel) had risen in the early years but since 2000 had flattened out. To offset these costs, the BIOT granted commercial fishing licences which in recent years have brought in about £700,000 per year. The net enforcement costs to the public purse have therefore been about £900,000. In 2008 (before the creation of the MPA) the Chagos Conservation Trust commented that:
With the cessation of Licences in Nov 2010 the Deputy BIOT Commissioner, Andrew Allen, announced that “BIOT was facing real financial difficulty” as a result of the loss of licence money. This has subsequently been alleviated by a £3.5M donation from the Bertarelli Foundation to offset the lost revenue over the next 5 years (until 2015), but this is not a long term solution.
A paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2004 ** looked at the typical running costs of MPAs worldwide. By using the data and relationships, an estimate of the realistic running cost of the new Chagos MPA can be made. It is £12.8M, suggesting that the present spend is at least 8 fold too low based on the £1.6M cost but 14 fold too low on the actual spend by the FCO.
On 10 March 2011, the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, announced [see FCO Press release below] additional funding of £1 million to the BIOT Administration to strengthen the Territory's reserves, in part to meet the rising costs of operating the Pacific Marlin.
All of these considerations suggest that the location of, and provision of resources for MPA enforcement remain inadequate for the task and that additional resources are necessary to meet the new responsibilities inherent in the designation of the MPA.
** Balmford A, Gravestock P, Hockley N, McClean CJ, Roberts CM (2004) The worldwide costs of marine protected areas. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 101:9694-9697
Scientific Expedition Use
With a total of 33 berths, the Pacific Marlin can accommodate up to 12 scientists for research cruises to the Northern Atolls (Salomon & Peros Banhos). In the usage statistics (above) this accounts for a portion of the BIOTA (BIOT Administration) tasking. Until now, research cruises using the Pacific Marlin have been infrequent, in 2006, 2010 and 2012, and it is doubtful if additional capacity for this can be allowed without reducing its vital patrol functions.