WELLINGTON (REUTERS) – Two New Zealand naval ships are headed to the Pacific Islands next week on a three-month deployment to provide maritime security and other support for Pacific Island partners, Minister of Defence Peeni Henare in a statement said on Friday (July 22).

The HMNZS Wellington, an offshore patrol vessel, and the HMNZS Manawanui, a dive and hydrographic ship, will deploy to the region along with a P-3 Orion surveillance plane to patrol and deter illegal fishing and look for unexploded ordnance from earlier wars, among other duties, the statement said.

“Now that most Pacific borders are open we are able to return to more hands-on partnerships in support of our Pacific partners’ priorities in order to achieve a peaceful, stable, prosperous and resilient Pacific region,” said Mr Henare.

Fisheries are a significant resource for Pacific countries, with New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade estimating the region’s tuna catch to be worth US$5.3 billion (S$7.37 billion) annually and providing 23,000 jobs.

However, this is put at threat by illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

“The Pacific is who we are as well as where we are. The challenges our region faces are New Zealand’s too which is why the region is both a foreign policy and defence priority for the government,” Mr Henare said.