Patrol Vessel


In late 2016 the BIOT Administration signed a new contract with North Star Shipping, based in Aberdeen, Scotland for the use of the Grampian Frontier as the new BIOT Patrol Vessel. It commenced its patrol duties in early 2017.

The Grampian Frontier is a 'Tanker Assist Class of Offshore Support Vessel' (essentially a Tug boat) built in 1997. It had previously been operated in the North Sea. At 69 metres long by 14.5 metres breadth it draws 6.5 metres when fully loaded and has a gross registered tonnage of 2,064 tonnes. Maximum speed is 13.3 knots.

Compared with its predecessor, the Pacific Marlin, the Grampian Frontier has a similar maximum speed but is double the tonnage and 10 metres longer. It draws an additional 2.7 metres, which may be a disadvantage when operating in the northern atolls of Peros Banhos and Salomon where lagoon depths are frequently shallow.

Accommodation on the Grampian Frontier is 24 man, single and double berth cabins which is 9 fewer berths than on its predecessor the Pacific Marlin which with 33 berths could accommodate up to 12 visiting scientists. The number of full-time crew is not however known.

The Grampian Frontier has a large rear deck area and is equipped with two 2 tonne (@ 10m radius) cranes. Propulsion consists of 2 stern propeller shafts driven by Bergen BRM8 diesel engines, together with azimuth, bow and stern thrusters for manoeuvrability. For full specifications see: Grampian Frontier Specifications

The BIOT Administration say that "The new BIOT Patrol Vessel is more capable than its predecessor in addition to which, we employ a range of specialist capabilities to enhance the surveillance and enforcement effort". It is possible that the latter involve the satellite resources such as those in 'Project Eyes on the Sea' (Pew Trusts), however much of the illegal fishing that takes place in the MPA is by small wooden fishing vessels from India or Sri Lanka which are difficult to detect either by optical satellites or using satellite or ship radar. These vessels also do not carry any form of vessel identification technologies.

Photographs of the Grampian Frontier at Diego Garcia in early 2017

Previous Fishery Protection/ Patrol Vessels


Like the new patrol vessel, the Pacific Marlin was based in Diego Garcia. It was operated by the Swire Pacific Offshore Group under contract with the BIOT Administration. The final contract ended in mid 2016.

It was built in 1978 as an ocean going tug, 57.7 metres long with a draft of 3.8 metres and gross tonnage 1,200. It maximum speed was 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. [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 spent 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.

Scientific Expedition Use

With a total of 33 berths, the Pacific Marlin could 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.

Sewage Pollution by the Pacific Marlin

In a newspaper report in 2014 it appears that the Pacific Marlin had been discharging sewage into the lagoon/small boat basin at Diego Garcia: The Independent 28 March 2014 - British Government under fire for pollution of pristine lagoon

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 somewhat fanciful. The Patrol Vessel remains the only asset 'on the ground'.

For the Patrol Vessel 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.

Circle of size of Chagos MPA (200nm) superimposed on UK

PATROL VESSEL AND FISHERIES COSTS 1992 to 2012 - all figures adjusted for UK Retail Prices Index (RPI)

The annual expenditure on this Patrol Vessel is shown in the graph. Figures have been adjusted by the UK rate of inflation (RPI) to 2014 values so that any 'real' increases in expenditure can be ascertained.

The Patrol Vessel was first used in the 1994-5 fishing season. Since then expenditure has increased at a rate of about £37,000 per year. Expenditure in 2012 was £2.26M. Fisheries Administration costs were about £700K until 2005 and then reduced to about £366K thereafter.

Prior to the declaration of the MPA in April 2010 costs were offset by the grant of commercial fishing licences which brought in about £1.6M per year. The net enforcement costs between 1992 and 2010 were about £475K per year.

In 2008 (before the creation of the MPA) the Chagos Conservation Trust commented that:

“The Administration of the BIOT in regards to conservation and fisheries management and enforcement and scientific monitoring must be more adequately resourced than at present.”

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 5 fold too low.

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

Page last updated 9 Oct 2018