Friday, February 02, 2007
A 98-metre trimaran, dubbed 'prison ship' by its critics, has taken to Australian waters for the first time in Darwin, ahead of its inaugural border patrol. The Triton is the federal government's latest weapon in the fight against illegal fisherman and other unlawful activities within Australian waters, including intercepting illegal immigrants before they get ashore. Capable of detaining 30 people for up to a month and armed with twin machine guns, the Triton is one of the world's largest trimarans. It is being deployed in Australia's northern waters during a 12-month trial costing $17 million. In Darwin for the ship's launch, federal Customs Minister Chris Ellison said it was a significant day for Australia's northern border protection. "We see the Triton in the water and ready for action," he told reporters."I think it will put the runs on the board and definitely send a very clear message that we are deadly serious about cracking down on illegal fishermen." When the government called for tenders to build the vessel last July, critics labelled the boat a high seas detention centre and likened it to a prison hulk. The Triton will be manned by a civilian maritime crew of 14 along with up to 28 armed customs officers capable of boarding suspected illegal fishing boats. The vessel was built in Britain in 2000 and can reach a top speed of 20 knots (37km/h). Senator Ellison said the boat would act as a mothership for other naval vessels. It would also serve as a quarantine block, monitor security risks and stop illegal entrants, as well as attempts to bring in illicit imports such as drugs. "That is why it is important to have in place measures such as the Triton," Senator Ellison said. In 2005-2006, 367 foreign fishing boats were apprehended in Australian waters, up from 203 in 2004-2005, he said.