NZ company develops unmanned vessel to help patrol IUU fishing in the Pacific

Published on
July 2, 2020

New Zealand-based company X-Craft has announced it has developed an unmanned sea vessel, designed for extreme endurance at sea, that can assist nations in the Pacific in combatting illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

X-Craft CEO Philip Solaris told SeafoodSource that the company is looking for ways to enhance protection of the ocean, especially in the Pacific.

Called the Proteus, the unmanned vessel will feature an all-electric power management and drive system. The vessel is also equipped with solar panels and a small vertical wind to power the whole craft. 

For data collection, the vessel also has radar, sonar, infrared, high-definition optical cameras, and intelligent software. Furthermore, it has its own drones. 

Solaris said that the boat is “self-powered and can stand sea as long as it wants and it doesn’t need to refuel.”  

He added that the unmanned vessel has an infinite range and capabilities to conduct surveillance for a long time and across entire oceans. The Proteus will be less costly compared to manned vessels, Solaris noted.

According to the X-craft website, this kind of vessel can be best used by small nations in the Pacific.

“That are rich in resources but poor in economic clout,” the company stated.Many simply do not have enough funds to go beyond the basic care of their people. There are conflicting demands on their budgets and a focus on immediate survival with little left to resource the big-picture, long-term strategy.”

Some nations have already shown interest, Solaris said, particularly those invested in monitoring along marine reserves. 

The future plan after the first craft proves its capability is to “cover vast areas of ocean, patrol against illegal fishing and gather unprecedented scientific data,” according to the company, and to move on to Phase 2 – manufacturing a fleet of Proteus crafts. 

There have been concerns that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, which has resulted in the frequency of patrols in the region being reduced.

In a press statement last week, the New Zealand Defence Force said that it has recommenced aerial patrols in the Pacific due to reported illegal fishing in the region. A Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P-3K2 Orion carried out aerial surveillance over the exclusive economic zones of Niue and the Cook Islands.

“We routinely support Niue and the Cook Islands with patrols and are resuming these given current uncertainty about illegal fishing activity. If it is the case that illegal activity has increased, that has implications for the sustainability of fish stocks,” the statement said. 

The aerial patrol also looked for transnational organized crime such as drug smuggling.

Solaris said Proteus can also work with aerial patrols and “tie in to that sort of operation very well and can relay information and more importantly narrow down the target area.”

Ocean can be a very big place, if we can shrink down the target for a manned aircraft or boat to go to, it saves a lot of time and a lot of money,” he added. 

For now, Proteus will be focused in the Pacific. 

“We think that there is enough challenge there to deal with,” Solaris said

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