The Albanese government will provide thousands of GPS trackers to Sri Lanka to install on its fleet of fishing vessels in a bid to stop people smugglers from enticing desperate locals to make the dangerous journey to Australia.
Sri Lanka will receive thousands of GPS trackers from the Albanian government to install onto its sprawling fleet of fishing trawlers in a bid to stop asylum seeker boats from leaving the collapsed nation.
Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil made the announcement when she opened the Fisheries Monitoring Center in Colombo on Tuesday alongside Sri Lankan officials.
An estimated 4,000 boats will be installed with the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) where the location of the large fleet will be monitored from the new centre.
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The $5 million tracking system will allow the Sri Lankan government to enhance maritime awareness, tackle people smuggling, illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, to counter terrorism and ensure crime syndicates did not use the boats.
Additionally, it will allow the Fisheries Ministry to monitor and ensure fish are legitimately caught and overfishing does not occur to protect marine ecosystems.
Vessels without trackers or those who remove or disable them will be penalised by the Sri Lankan government.
Ms O’Neil said the GPS trackers will be a “great benefit” to Sri Lankan fishermen.
“It means they are able to catch fish which are able to be sold on to countries that require specific information on the origins of those fish,” she said.
“It also assists us with the crucial task of combating transnational crime and people-smuggling operations.
“What it means is the Sri Lankan government has very good real-time information about the location of Sri Lanka fishing vessels. That is very important for the partnership approach we have for stopping transnational crime and people-smuggling.”
She told Sri Lankan media desperate locals trying to flee have been lied to amid the economic and humanitarian crisis on the South-Asian island.
Hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans are desperately trying to flee as prices of every day items soar due to shortages of fuel, petrol and medicine as its overseas currency reserve dived and it was unable to pay for imports of goods.
“We do have a very simple message here: do not come to Australia by boat,” Ms O’Neil said.
“You will not make it there. If you try to make this journey, you will be intercepted and you will be returned to Sri Lanka.
“It is a fruitless journey and I would urge Sri Lankans, when they are dealing with people-smugglers who are peddling… I want them to understand Australia’s border protection policies have not changed.”
Her visit comes after four asylum seeker boats were intercepted by Australian Border Force officers or Sri Lankan officials within the last month and the ongoing economic crisis forcing frustrated locals to make the trip across the treacherous Indian Ocean.
The tracking system will help the Sri Lankan Navy after it conceded this week it would not be able to stop all asylum seeker vessels from leaving its country.
Navy Spokesman Captain Indika De Silva admitted it would be difficult to stop every single boat due to the vast 1,340 kilometers coastline it has to monitor.
He said it was not the lack of resources but simply the way people smugglers operated and it was their goal to evade navy mechanisms.
Captain De Silva added some refugees – who were intercepted – told the Navy that smugglers said, “they could use the political situation (in Australia) to their advantage”.
Ms O’Neil announced on Monday Australia will provide $50 million in support, including $22 million to the World Food Program and $23 million in development assistance.
The other $5 million was recently provided to the United Nations agencies in Sri Lanka.
Ms O’Neil also promised the Australian government would advertise the nation to investors and tourists to encourage more people to visit to boost the economy.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong said the funding would go towards helping 3 million Sri Lankans to meet their daily nutrition every day and support health services.
“Australia has a close and long-standing relationship with Sri Lanka,” she said.
“Not only do we want to help the people of Sri Lanka in its time of need, there are also deeper consequences for the region if this crisis continues.”