The Federated States of Micronesia is facing a critical gap in its maritime surveillance and emergency response capability following the departure of two Australian patrol boats that guarded the nation’s waters for three decades.
The FSS Micronesia and FSS Independence set sail on Jan. 12, heading back to Australia after their services were retired.
“For the 30 years of service these ships have provided to our nation, the FSS Micronesia and FSS Independence have provided this paradise in our backyards with the sovereign capability to conduct maritime surveillance and enforcement, as well as to assist our nation with important missions ranging from search and rescue operations to disaster relief,” President David Panuelo said in his remarks during the departure ceremony.
The first replacement vessel, a Guardian-class patrol boat, is expected to arrive in April 2022, and the second in July.
“I am informed that the new patrol boats are an improvement in every way,” Panuelo said.
While awaiting the replacement boats' arrival, Panuelo said he would request supplemental patrols from Australia, Japan and the United States to bridge the security gap "until such a time that the nation’s maritime surveillance capacity is not only restored but strengthened."
In the meantime, Panuelo urged state governments to develop their contingency plans for emergency response, noting that weather disturbances occur from time to time.
“Just recently, we had one (search and rescue) operation in Pohnpei and one in Chuuk,” he said. “In this regard, I would urge the state governors to consider implementing measures that mitigate the situation, at least for the time being, as we are awaiting the arrival of new patrol boats from Australia.”
Panuelo encouraged the state governors to require the registration of outboard motors in their respective jurisdictions to facilitate rescue operations during an emergency situation.
Australia handed over the FSS Micronesia and FSS Independence to then- president John Haglelgam in March of 1990. The aging vessels have since undergone repairs.
In July 2009, the FSS Micronesia dry-docked in Australia where it was rehabilitated to extend its useful life by another 15 years.
Australia provided the vessels to FSM as part of its Pacific Patrol Boat Program. “The Pacific Patrol Boat Program has helped ensure that the men and women who serve the people of the FSM, through the National Police, are able to play an active role in securing our own borders and natural resources,” Panuelo said. “The practical effect has been that Micronesia has been safer, and has been freer, which in turn has contributed to Indo-Pacific stability and security,” he added. According to a press release from the FSM government, the crews of the FSS Independence and FSS Micronesia will receive extensive training on the new Guardian-class patrol boats, which are part of Australia’s Patrol Boat Replacement Program. “The new boats are 39.5 meters long, as opposed to 31.5 meters long; the new boats have a range of 3,000 nautical miles at 12 knots, as opposed to a range of 2,500 nautical miles; the new Guardian-class vessels are equipped with an onboard fast rescue boat, which will greatly improve search and rescue operations," Panuelo said.
"The new boats have a series of quality-of-life improvements, such as a reduction in tank numbers to simplify the fuel system arrangement, simplified monitoring and control of mechanical systems, improved fuel consumption due to electronic control of main engines, and improved access to all voids and bilge spaces for inspection and maintenance, among so many other improvements," he added.