The objective of the audit was to assess whether Customs has implemented effective measures to control IUU fishing in the Southern Ocean. The audit examined Customs' management and coordination of enforcement operations in the Southern Ocean, with particular emphasis on:

  • the approach to assessing and reporting SOMPR program performance, and whether outcomes are being met;
  • coordination with other stakeholder agencies to meet program outcomes;
  • the operational planning framework, management of human and physical resources and contract management; and
  • the management of the deployment and operation of program maritime assets.



Since late 1997, the Australian Customs Service (Customs), the Department of Defence (Defence), and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) have been patrolling Australia's Southern Ocean Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) and apprehending fishing vessels operating there illegally. Following an incursion into Australia's extensive Southern Ocean EEZs1 by an illegal fishing vessel in August 20032 the then Government announced a program to deter, detect, and apprehend vessels conducting illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in this zone. The program, the Southern Ocean Maritime Patrol and Response (SOMPR) program, has been administered by the Australian Customs Service (Customs) from 1 July 2004.

The Government allocated $89.2 million over two years for this program. Most of this funding was to contract an armed vessel capable of year round patrols in the challenging conditions of sub-Antarctic weather.3 The vessel is the Oceanic Viking.

In 2005–06 the Government extended the SOMPR program until 30 June 2010 at a total cost of $181.3 million.4 Customs retained the Oceanic Viking as the vessel for Southern Ocean patrols.

In general terms, IUU vessels are those vessels detected undertaking:

  • ‘illegal fishing'. This is fishing in national waters without the permission of a state or in contravention of its laws and regulations. It also refers to a vessel contravening a conservation measure of a relevant Regional Fisheries Management Organisation of which the country that vessel is flagged to is a member;
  • ‘unreported fishing'. This is fishing which has not been reported or has been misreported by fishing vessels; or
  • ‘unregulated fishing'. This is fishing by vessels without nationality, under flags of states not party to regional fisheries management regimes, or in ways that contravene such regimes.5

The Government's desired outcomes for the SOMPR program are the protection of:

  • the Patagonian Toothfish fishery from IUU fishing in Australia's EEZs surrounding Heard Island and McDonald Islands (known as ‘HIMI');
  • Australian Southern Ocean waters; and
  • the fragile Southern Ocean environment.

Before the program began in July 2004, eight IUU vessels had been apprehended since 1997–98. The Government expected the frequency of incursions into Australia's Southern Ocean EEZs to increase. However, since July 2004 there has been one IUU vessel sighted and apprehended in the Southern Ocean.6 This decline in apprehension activity within the Australian EEZ, together with the introduction of joint surveillance and patrol operations with France in the Southern Ocean, has allowed the Government to undertake other activities, including:

  • environmental checks and weather buoy deployment on behalf of the Australian Antarctic Division and Bureau of Meteorology;
  • deployments into Australia's northern waters to increase the number of apprehensions of illegal foreign fishing vessels;7
  • inspections of licensed Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CAMLR)8 Convention vessels;
  • detection and reporting of IUU fishing vessels operating on the high seas part of the Commission for the Counservation of Antartic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) area;
  • emergency medical evacuations carried out as part of Australia's international Safety of Life at Sea obligations; and
  • ad hoc engagements for other Australian border protection and environmental purposes.9

These activities have changed, and continue to change, based on government requirements for the SOMPR program, cooperative patrolling arrangements between Australia and other countries in the Southern Ocean, and other international obligations.

Audit scope and objective

The objective of the audit was to assess whether Customs has implemented effective measures to control IUU fishing in the Southern Ocean. The audit examined Customs' management and coordination of enforcement operations in the Southern Ocean, with particular emphasis on:

  • the approach to assessing and reporting SOMPR program performance, and whether outcomes are being met;
  • coordination with other stakeholder agencies to meet program outcomes;
  • the operational planning framework, management of human and physical resources and contract management; and
  • the management of the deployment and operation of program maritime assets.


To implement the SOMPR program, Customs procured and now operates a vessel capable of patrolling harsh sub-Antarctic waters. Customs has consistently exceeded its target of at least 200 sea days patrolling annually, and has performed that work within its budget.

Customs completed negotiations with France (which shares common Southern Ocean maritime boundaries with Australia) to patrol the Southern Ocean Patagonian Toothfish fisheries. This has improved patrolling effectiveness for both countries by reducing the likelihood that patrols in the Southern Ocean are duplicated, and increasing the number of patrols, and time spent patrolling, the Southern Ocean.

In the four years since the SOMPR program commenced, one IUU vessel has been sighted and apprehended in Australia's Southern Ocean EEZ. This low level of IUU activity indicates that one of the original desired outcomes of the SOMPR program—to protect Australia's Patagonian Toothfish fishery from IUU fishing—is being achieved.

In this light, Customs has successfully implemented measures to control IUU fishing in the Southern Ocean. However, with existing information it is difficult to determine the extent to which those measures have contributed to the decline in observed IUU activity. IUU activity is likely to be influenced by a range of factors that can vary over time, including patrolling by France, fish stocks, weather conditions and economic conditions (including fuel, equipment and fish prices).

Against this background, it is important that Customs continues to update its assessment of the threat of IUU fishing, taking these factors into account. This should enable Customs to understand better the influences on IUU activity and provide assurance that SOMPR program resources are used efficiently and effectively to mitigate those threats. To enable Customs to provide this assurance and to support policy decisions about the future shape of the program, it should:

  • develop an approach which provides an assessment of the SOMPR program's performance and the extent to which the program's activities contribute to the intended outcomes; and
  • develop a strategic plan for Southern Ocean patrolling, identifying patrolling options for government after the conclusion of the program on 30 June 2010.

To deliver the SOMPR program, Customs receives services and advice from other Australian Government agencies (such as the Australian Fisheries Management Authority). To date, Customs and other SOMPR stakeholders have coordinated their activities well. However, with the expiry of a formal agreement with a key stakeholder (the Australian Antarctic Division), it is opportune for all parties to agree and document their individual roles and responsibilities within the program.10 This would provide increased assurance that SOMPR program services continue to be coordinated effectively.

Customs leases the Oceanic Viking from a private firm. The measures Customs has introduced to manage the contract could be improved by specifying clearly the roles and responsibilities of Customs' Contract Manager.

Key findings by chapter

Program performance (Chapter 2)

In 2004–05 there were delays in commencing the SOMPR program. However, Customs met its commitment to government to patrol Australian waters for 200 days in that year.11 Since 2004–05, Customs has delivered the SOMPR program within 3 per cent of the original program budget. Customs has also met its commitment to patrol Australian waters for a minimum of 200 days annually. Based on these results, Customs has, to date, delivered the activities required under the SOMPR program on time and on budget.

However, this information is insufficient to show the extent to which the SOMPR program has satisfied its intended outcomes. It is also not possible to determine whether, over time, program efficiency and effectiveness has improved or deteriorated.

Collecting and reporting on a wider range of performance information which covers key SOMPR program activities would provide an improved measure of program performance. This could include collecting and reporting information on the:

  • number of suspected IUU vessels detected compared to the number of IUU vessels intercepted and apprehended; and
  • activities not directly related to the original decision to patrol Australia's Southern Ocean EEZ. To date these activities have included support for APEC and monitoring whaling activity in the Southern Ocean.

Customs has undertaken preliminary work with Defence and other agencies to re-assess the risks to Australia's borders, and the maritime capability required to mitigate these risks. It has not completed a strategy for Southern Ocean patrols beyond 2009–10. The ANAO considers it important that the development of a strategy, and the identification of potential assets to undertake patrolling after 30 June 2010, commences in a timely fashion.

Stakeholder coordination (Chapter 3)

The SOMPR program has a range of stakeholders comprising Australian Government agencies and other organisations. These stakeholders provide services which are essential to program delivery, including: medical support; advice on the Southern Ocean operating environment; quarantine issues; advice on international maritime law; intelligence gathering and analysis; and international diplomacy.

The Operational Advisory Group (OAG) is a forum that allows Australian Government agency stakeholders (OAG members) to provide strategic and operational guidance to Customs on: fisheries matters; domestic and international law; CCAMLR convention; Antarctic Treaty; and foreign affairs as they relate to the operation of the patrol program. Stakeholder advice, and an examination of the OAG minutes and briefing papers, showed that the OAG is an effective forum for member agencies to provide their views and for Customs to coordinate the program.

To coordinate SOMPR program activities well, not only must stakeholder agencies provide services to Customs12 but SOMPR program operational information (such as intelligence gathered during Southern Ocean patrols) must also be distributed to OAG members. Although working arrangements between Customs and its OAG members are generally sound, they would be strengthened if roles, responsibilities and accountabilities for providing and retrieving operational information were clearly documented and agreed. That includes ensuring existing MoUs for the provision of SOMPR program services by stakeholders are up-to-date.

Another important stakeholder is the French Government. On 1 February 2005, a treaty formalising cooperative surveillance activities between Australia and France in their respective maritime zones entered into force.13 Since that time, Customs and Australian Fisheries Management Authority staff have participated in nine joint patrols on board French vessels, and French personnel have been on board eight Australian patrols. These arrangements have benefited Customs and SOMPR program operations.

Long-term planning for operations and management of resources (Chapter 4)

The Southern Ocean Long-Term Sailing Plan (LTSP) is a high-level project plan developed by Customs' Maritime Patrol and Response Unit (MPRU). The LTSP specifies when Customs' Southern Ocean patrols should occur. The ANAO found that MPRU's approach to developing the LTSP is sound, but could be enhanced by: documenting the approach to developing the LTSP; recording all the changes made to the LTSP; and recording key stakeholder comments relating to the LTSP.

MPRU is responsible for managing the activities of 135 operational staff known as ‘Armed Boarding Officers'. These officers have specialist skills in conducting patrols in the Southern Ocean as well as Australia's northern waters. Given the harsh Southern Ocean environment, it is critical that all patrols are deployed with the required number of officers, that those officers are fit for duty, and that they carry appropriate qualifications and clearances. The ANAO found that MPRU obtains and monitors information to ensure that: each patrol is staffed adequately; Armed Boarding Officers receive adequate training; and Armed Boarding Officers are regularly assessed to ensure they are able to perform their roles effectively and safely.

Customs leases the Oceanic Viking from a private contractor. This lease is the major ongoing cost to the program. MPRU is responsible for the management of the lease including liaising with the contractor. While generally sound, the ANAO found that the approach MPRU uses to manage its contract would be improved if MPRU were to specify the roles and responsibilities of its contract manager, develop governance arrangements for managing the contract and assign responsibilities for monitoring and reporting on identified risks to the lease.

Tasking processes and patrol operations (Chapter 5)

Undertaking Southern Ocean patrols efficiently, effectively and safely requires sound planning before the patrol, clearly defined patrol objectives, and adherence by operational staff to well-developed operating procedures while at sea. Customs' Enforcement Operations Coordination Unit (EOCU) is responsible for managing these aspects of Southern Oceans patrolling.

To assess Customs' management of Southern Ocean patrol operations, the ANAO examined the following aspects of EOCU's administration of the deployment and operations of the Oceanic Viking:

  • individual patrol planning;
  • overseeing the implementation of the Standing Operating Procedures (SOPs);14 and
  • patrol reporting and performance assessment.

Individual patrol planning includes deciding where the Oceanic Viking will depart from, the sailing course it will take during patrols, and the tasks it will complete during patrols. The ANAO found that Customs' approach to planning patrols includes the following:

  • an assessment by Customs of intelligence;
  • comprehensive briefing for Customs officers, OAG members and Oceanic Viking staff; and
  • the development of comprehensive Patrol Orders.15

The ANAO considers that the process to develop taskings is systematic, and the information contained in Patrol Orders is clear.

Although Customs produced well-documented SOPs at the commencement of the interim SOMPR program in 2004, it has not reviewed and updated these SOPs since May 2005. Customs would obtain increased assurance that Armed Boarding Officers and other Oceanic Viking staff operate efficiently, effectively and safely in the Southern Ocean by reviewing their SOPs periodically in consultation with operational staff.

A sound Southern Ocean operational reporting regime is essential to: gather and report on IUU vessel sightings and apprehensions; inform program stakeholders of patrol events; and record the performance of the vessel and Armed Boarding Officers in undertaking patrols. EOCU has established a comprehensive regime to report on the activities and events that occur in the Southern Ocean. These reports range from detailed descriptions of events or activities, used to gather intelligence, through to broader assessments of patrols. However, the quality and detail of individual reports is inconsistent, and the reports do not always address the objectives for each patrol. The ANAO considers that this type of assessment is important not only to determine how well specific taskings are completed on each patrol, but also in assessing Customs' performance in fulfilling its program objectives.


The ANAO has made four recommendations aimed at strengthening Customs' assurance that the measures it has in place to control IUU fishing in the Southern Ocean are effective. Customs agreed with all of these recommendations.

Agency response

Customs welcomes the report on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing in the Southern Ocean, which identifies that Customs has successfully implemented measures to control illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the Southern Ocean, coordinating activities well with other stakeholders and delivering activities on time and on budget.

Customs agrees with the report's four recommendations that provide useful guidance for Customs to enhance its performance in delivering the Southern Ocean Maritime Patrol and Response program.


1  Australia's Southern Ocean EEZs are approximately 880 000 square kilometres and includes: Heard Island; the McDonald Islands; and Macquarie Island. The incursion occurred within the Heard and McDonald Islands EEZs. These zones extend from the outer edge of the twelve nautical mile belt of coastal waters up to 200 nautical miles. Within an EEZ, Australia has sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring, exploiting, conserving and managing all natural resources of the waters superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil.

2  The Australian civilian patrol vessel, the Southern Supporter detected the Viarsa I operating illegally in Australia's EEZs. Following an extended pursuit of the Viarsa I by Australian and South African vessels, it was apprehended in August 2003.

3  Weather conditions can include Force 12 gales and seas of more than 10 metres. The Government decided that the vessel required armament to help apprehend potentially hostile IUU vessels.

4  This funding comprises $167.8 million for Customs and $13.5 million for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. This was additional to previous program funding, and was allocated for the four years from 2006–07 to

5  Fallon, L., 2007, The role of state and non state actors in Patagonian Toothfish management (doctoral thesis), University of Tasmania. The internationally accepted definition of IUU fishing is specified in Appendix 1 of this report.

6  The vessel apprehended (the Taruman) in July 2004 was found fishing illegally within the Macquarie Island EEZ. Since the introduction of the SOMPR program, no IUU vessels have been apprehended operating in the HIMI EEZ.

7  As a result of joint patrol coverage with France in the Southern Ocean, the SOMPR program can undertake two maritime patrols annually in Australia's northern waters. The audit did not examine Customs' performance in undertaking these northern waters patrols. However, it did examine the impact these patrols had on the provision of patrolling and apprehension services to the Southern Ocean.

8  CCAMLR has 25 member nations. Fishing vessels flagged to those nations are required to comply with the CCAMLR Convention. The Convention is used to manage fisheries taking into account the marine ecosystem.

9  For example, the Oceanic Viking was used for security purposes during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in September 2007. The Oceanic Viking was also used to monitor the Japanese whaling fleet in early 2008.

10  Customs and the Australian Antarctic Division advised as part of their responses to the audit, that they have recently signed a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) regarding the provision of services in the Southern Ocean.

11  There were delays in commencing the program due to difficulties in recruiting and training operational staff in
2004–05. This resulted in a 17 per cent underspend on the program in that year.

12  For example, the Australian Antarctic Division provides a doctor for all SOMPR program patrols.

13A complementary cooperative enforcement treaty—the Agreement on Cooperative Enforcement of Fisheries Laws between the Government of Australia and the Government of the French Republic in Maritime Areas Adjacent to the French Southern and Antarctic Territories, Heard Island and the McDonald Islands—was signed on 8 January 2008 but has not yet entered into force.

14  To help staff on the Oceanic Viking to carry out their taskings efficiently, effectively and safely, Customs developed detailed procedures. SOPs for the SOMPR program are instructions that guide the behaviour and conduct of Customs' Armed Boarding Officers and other Oceanic Viking staff when operating in the Southern Ocean. If SOPs are not followed by Armed Boarding Officers and other staff, there is an increased risk that taskings will not be completed safely and satisfactorily.

15  A Patrol Order is a broad operational plan for a patrol. It includes taskings, which are the targets and/or objectives for the patrol.