More than 700 military personnel from around the world mobilized against illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing during Multinational Maritime Authority Exercise GALAPEX II 2023. Representatives from the navies and coast guards of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, the European Union, France, Italy, Mexico, Panama, Peru, the United Kingdom, and the United States trained in the city of Salinas and in Santa Cruz (Galápagos Islands) in Ecuador, September 18-30.
Activities included maritime interdiction, boarding, tactical maneuvers, and communications. The objective was to “strengthen operational capabilities, maintain interoperability, and strengthen collaborative ties,” the Ecuadorian Navy, host of the exercise, said in a statement. Participants formed a Multinational Task Force to combat IUU fishing in the waters surrounding the Galápagos Islands.
Rear Admiral Oscar Novoa, commander of Naval Operations of the Ecuadorian Navy and commander of the GALAPEX II 2023 Multinational Task Force, stressed that UNESCO declared the Galápagos Islands a Natural World Heritage Site in 1978 for their unique biodiversity.
“Our charming islands, however, also face considerable challenges, such as IUU fishing, which threatens migratory marine species and biodiversity in the region,” Rear Adm. Noboa said during the opening ceremony. “Hence, the primary objective of this exercise lies precisely in addressing this problem and devising concrete strategies to confront it more effectively.”
The multinational force was made up of a frigate from the Peruvian Navy, two U.S. Coast Guard cutters, and six surface units from the Ecuadorian Navy, as well as two naval aviation units from the Naval Aviation Command. “GALAPEX 2023 is not just a naval exercise. It is a testament to the ability of nations to unite in the fight against common threats and to protect our environment,” Rear Adm. Noboa said.
“It is important that the security and defense forces carry out this type of exercise to practice in the coordination of operations and to share lessons learned and methodologies. That way they share experiences that each of the forces has taken many years to acquire,” Milko Schvartzman, an expert in marine conservation and IUU fishing with Argentine nongovernmental organization Círculo de Políticas Ambientales, told Diálogo.
Tracing surface units
In the first four days of the exercise, the Work Up phase was carried out, with combined 24-hour communication maneuvers and tactical training (tracing of surface units), Argentine news site Zona Militar reported.
Then came the Scenario phase, where the different participating units carried out cooperative and non-cooperative boarding exercises. “In this stage, [participants] simulated the collision of a vessel located in the strip of water adjacent to the territory, where [they] executed inspections as part of routine procedures, as well as responsibility as maritime authority,” Zona Militar reported.
In his presentation to participants, Ecuadorian Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Sebastián Gallardo Romero warned about IUU fishing threats. “It’s well known that IUU fishing activity in the sector is present through a foreign-flagged fishing fleet, which normally travels the entire South American cone, from the coasts of Argentina to the coasts of Costa Rica to the north,” Lt. Cmdr. Gallardo said.
According to the officer, last year alone more than 250 vessels fished off the coasts of Peru and Ecuador. Likewise, between January and December 2022, some 400 vessels were sighted sailing from west to south of the Galápagos Islands, of which only about 180 transmitted their identification systems daily. These vessels put at risk the more than 7,000 species endemic to the Galápagos Islands, including the hammerhead shark, critical to the region’s ecosystem.
“Our proposal [is] for union and coordinated work with the rest of [the] navies so that in the future it will not be just one naval unit that is protecting these resources, which after all belong to humanity, but that the materialization of a multinational maritime task force will be the appropriate response to these acts,” Lt. Cmdr. Gallardo concluded.