Cook Islands grateful for help on illegal fishing
 Thursday December 07, 2006

Cook Island authorities yesterday expressed their appreciation of New Zealand and Australian help in policing their territorial waters after they intercepted a foreign vessel suspected of illegal fishing.

Its patrol boat, Te Kukupa, caught a vessel in the islands' northern regions on Tuesday after leaving its base in Rarotonga on Friday after a tip-off. An RNZAF Orion was also involved in the exercise.

Marine Resources Minister Wilkie Rasmussen said the Cook Islands' exclusive economic zone was one of the country's few assets and needed protection. But patrolling the zone would be difficult without assistance from New Zealand and Australia under a joint maritime surveillance programme.

When Te Kukupa intercepted the vessel, it directed the crew to haul in their lines. It was yesterday escorting the vessel to Rarotonga for investigation into possible illegal fishing.

A Cook Islands High Commission spokeswoman in Wellington said the nationality of the intercepted vessel had not yet been confirmed.

"We just want to get the message across that it's great the help we get from Australia and New Zealand in trying to deter these people from stealing our fish," she said.

Seven months ago, the Cook Islands Government successfully prosecuted a United States vessel, the MV Adelita, for illegal fishing after it too was apprehended by Te Kukupa.