Pacific’s Palau mulls drone patrols to monitor waters

The tiny Pacific nation of Palau says it hopes to use drone patrols to deter illegal fishermen from using its vast territorial waters in what officials believe is a world-first use for the technology.

Palau has an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 630,000 square kilometres (240,000 square miles) — roughly the size of France — but only one patrol boat, making it a prime target for illegal trawlers.

A five-day test programme using three unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — officials prefer the term because “drone” is felt to have military connotations — wrapped up on Friday after impressing locals.

President Tommy Remengesau said the UAVs showed potential to “greatly increase the efficiency of our surveillance capability and, most importantly, significantly decrease the overall cost of the joint surveillance effort”.

The idea of using the drones emerged after Australian mining magnate Andrew Forrest visited Palau in January and asked his Minderoo philanthropic foundation to examine the illegal fishing issue.

“Andrew absolutely loves the pristine environment of Palau and also loves the people there,” Greg Parker of the Minderoo Foundation said.

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