New Zealand Defense Minister Peeni Henare announced Friday the dispatch of patrol vessels to its Pacific Island partners with the intention of strengthening maritime security in the Pacific region.

“The Pacific is who we are and where we are. The challenges facing our region are also New Zealand’s challenges, which is why the region is both a foreign policy and defense priority for the Government,” Henare said in a statement shared by the New Zealand Ministry of Defense.

Specifically, the New Zealand Government has prepared to send Royal Navy ships HMNZS Wellington and HMNZS Manawanui, which will depart this Saturday for a series of support activities under the banner “Operation Mahi Tahi,” including maritime patrols by Lockheed P-3 Orion aircraft.

“Operation Mahi Tahi will enable us to work together to provide maritime security patrols to detect and deter illegal fishing, as well as conduct explosive remnants of war reconnaissance; fisheries training and capacity building; humanitarian aid and disaster relief planning; and Pacific Defense Gender Network engagement,” Henare has detailed.

In this regard, the New Zealand Armed Forces, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Ministry of Primary Industries are conducting a partnership with defense and fisheries officials in Fiji, Niue, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Last week’s Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Fiji reinforced the “deep and enduring connections” of the region’s states, and reaffirmed a led approach with which to achieve regional peace and security.

During the summit, the United States announced a new strategy to prioritize foreign relations with Pacific states as it seeks to counter China’s influence in the region.

In addition, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare ruled out that the security agreement signed with China last April would allow the Asian giant to establish a military base on its territory and thus make its citizens “targets of a possible military attack.”