Australian Government - Australian Customs and Border Protection Service

To protect Australia's borders and foster lawful trade and travel.

Customs and Border Protection Marine Unit

The Customs and Border Protection Marine Unit (CMU) provides personnel support to the Bay class and Cape class vessels and civil vessels chartered to undertake surveillance response activities within Australia's exclusive economic zones. 

Cape Class Patrol Boats

The Cape Class Patrol Boats maintain a presence around Australia's coastline.

The new Customs and Border Protection Cape Class Patrol Boats will play a significant role in border security by maintaining a presence around Australia’s coastline and responding to reported or suspected border incidents and illegal activity.

The Cape Class Patrol Boats and crew will be capable of operating to the full extent of the Australian 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), other than in the deep Southern Ocean, and will have the capacity to conduct operations in all environments in which Customs and Border Protection now operates and will be required to operate in the future.

The Cape Class Patrol Boat fleet will replace the Bay Class vessels, which are nearing the end of their planned operational life. The full fleet of Cape Class Patrol Boats will be operational by late 2015.

They will have greater range, endurance and flexibility in responding to maritime security threats than the current Bay Class vessels. These boats will also have enhanced capability to operate in higher sea states and survive in more severe conditions.

The patrol boats have capacity to accommodate future trends in surveillance technology and response capability. It is intended that these vessels will be connected to the Australian Maritime Security Operations Centre via an Australian Maritime Identification System terminal onboard each vessel.

The Cape Class Patrol Boats will be able to:

  • Undertake 28 day patrols
  • Sail 4,000 nautical miles before having to refuel
  • Sail to the 50 degrees south mark, in the Southern Ocean equatorial waters
  • Combat the full range of maritime security threats
  • Carry a larger crew to more effectively and safely manage boarding operations
  • Identify, track, intercept an extended range of threats in the maritime domain and gather intelligence and store evidence for matters that may proceed to the courts
  • Launch two Tender Response Vessels simultaneously.


The eight new patrol boats will be named after geographical capes in each Australian State and Territory:

  • Cape St George (ACT)
  • Cape Byron (NSW)
  • Cape Nelson (Victoria)
  • Cape Sorell (Tasmania)
  • Cape Jervis (SA)
  • Cape Leveque (WA)
  • Cape Wessel (NT)
  • Cape York (Queensland)

The naming of these boats after some of the furthest extremities of the Australian mainland and Tasmania highlights the scope of the Customs and Border Protection Marine Unit’s operational areas and the magnitude of the work required to protect our borders.

Customs and Border Protection Bay Class vessels

The Customs and Border Protection Bay class vessels are 38 metres overall with a range of about 1000 nautical miles at a cruising speed of 20 knots. They can accommodate up to 16 people for extended periods.

Bay class vessels investigate possible or confirmed incursions into Australian maritime territory and visit remote or otherwise inaccessible areas within Australia's offshore territories.

Each Bay class has two 6.4 metre tenders capable of carrying two crew and four passengers on transits of up to 30nm from the mother ship. Tenders are powered by twin 90HP outboards. Internal fuel capacity provides an adequate cruising range.

Tenders are deployed and recovered by a compensated davit system which allows safe and rapid launch/recovery of tenders in a range of sea conditions.

Customs and Border Protection vessels are fitted with deck-mounted weapon systems to better enable them to deal with border incursions and other constabulary operations at sea. All vessels have been fitted with a 7.62mm general-purpose machine gun. Bay class crewmembers also carry sidearms for personal protection.

The eight Bay class vessels are:

  • Australian Customs and Border Protection Vessel (ACV) Roebuck Bay
  • ACV Holdfast Bay
  • ACV Botany Bay
  • ACV Hervey Bay
  • ACV Corio Bay
  • ACV Arnhem Bay
  • ACV Dame Roma Mitchell
  • ACV Storm Bay

Northern operations

ACV Triton is a large armed patrol and response vessel which commenced operations with Customs and Border Protection out of Darwin on 2 February 2007. Triton has significantly enhanced Customs capability to patrol and enforce the northern fisheries since this date.

A former hydrographic survey vessel in the UK, Triton was selected for its range, speed and capability of operating independently or as a command ship, working in tandem with other Customs and Royal Australian Navy patrol boats. The diesel-electric powered 98-metre vessel is one of the world's largest motorised trimarans, with a top speed of 20 knots and is capable of operating at sea for extended periods. It is armed with twin deck-mounted 0.50 calibre machine guns and equipped with two, high-speed tenders for boarding operations.

Triton is operated by a civilian crew of 14 and can carry up to 28 Maritime Enforcement Officers whose primary role is to undertake armed Customs and Border Protection boarding operations. There is a capacity to hold up to 30 apprehended persons on board for short periods until they can be transferred ashore for processing and potential prosecution. Medical services are provided by a fully qualified and equipped intensive care paramedic.

Towing and transportation services

As part of the Government's anti-illegal fishing strategy, Customs and Border Protection has identified a panel of vessels to deliver towing and transportation services in support of Customs and Border Protection and Navy apprehensions. Customs and Border Protection has entered into contracts with owners/operators of 20 charter vessels to provide services as needed on a stand-by basis. The vessels are based in the ports of Dampier, Broome, Darwin, Cairns and Townsville and range from large research ships to oil and gas industry re-supply vessels and prawn fishing trawlers.

The vessels are suitably certified to carry the required number of crew, Customs and Border Protection officials and in the case of transport vessels, apprehended illegal foreign fishers. These towing and transport vessels free up Customs and Border Protection and Navy patrol boats to concentrate on patrolling Australia's.

Ashmore reef platform

ACV Ashmore Guardian provides a permanent near presence in the Ashmore Reef and Cartier Island Marine Reserves provide a greater degree of monitoring and compliance.

ACV Ashmore Guardian is a 35 metre long, 339 tonne vessel which was specially modified to be capable of carrying up to ten Customs and Border Protection officers and government officials.

ACV Ashmore Guardian will enhance surveillance and enforcement activities undertaken by Customs and Border Protection and Australian Defence Force aircraft and patrol boats which are coordinated by the Border Protection Command to protect Australia's offshore maritime areas.

The two marine reserves, covering an area of 750 km2, are about 320 km off the Australian coast but only 150 km south of the Indonesian Island of Roti. Traditional Indonesian fishermen are allowed to fish in the area under a Memorandum of Understanding between Australia and Indonesia. Within a small area of Ashmore Reserve only limited fishing for personal use is allowed.

Southern Ocean Maritime Patrol and Response Program

Since 1 July 2004, Customs and Border Protection has provided a full response capability to intercept and bring to court those suspected of illegally fishing for the valuable and increasingly rare Patagonian toothfish, primarily in Australia's Heard Island and McDonald Islands Exclusive Economic Zone in the southern Indian Ocean.

The Southern Ocean Maritime Patrol and Response Program provides a dedicated vessel capability - the ACV Ocean Protector - able to conduct year-round patrols in sub-Antarctic weather conditions that can include Force 12 gales and seas of more than 10 metres. The contracted vessel carries a full civilian crew and 'steaming party' (additional sailors capable of crewing an apprehended vessel), deck mounted 0.50 calibre machine guns, a team of specialist trained Customs and Border Protection Maritime Enforcement Officers armed with handguns, and Australian Fisheries Officers. The ACV Ocean Protector has a fully equipped medical facility staffed by an Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) doctor.

The ACV Ocean Protector also undertakes patrols in Australia's northern waters and other border protection activies/ taskings, such as surveillance of Japanese whaling activity in the southern Ocean during January/ February 2008. Under a cooperative treaty with France whose territory adjoins that of Australia's in the Southern Ocean, Customs and Border Protection Maritime Enforcement Officers also participate in joint patrols aboard French Patrol Vessels.

An important aspect of operating in such a remote location as the Southern Ocean is Australia's international obligations under the United Nations Safety of Life at Sea convention. The ACV Ocean Protector has conduted several emergency medical evacuations. In October 2006, the lives of two crew of foreign fishing vessels were saved in dramatic circumstances after one suffered a heart attack and the second a burst appendix. In early 2007, separate patrols saved an Australian scientist who had suffered a life threatening bowel blockage and French national who had kidney stones.

As well as ensuring that patients are safely transferred at sea, Customs and Border Protection Maritime Enforcement Officers with the appropriate specialised training have provided intensive care nursing and even assisted the AAD doctor on board in carrying out actual surgical procedures. 

Fact sheets

More detailed information is available in the following fact sheets:

Customs and Border Protection Cape Class Patrol Boats

 Australian Customs and Border Protection Vessels - ACV Ashmore Guardian 

 Maritime Zones

Enforcement operations in the Southern Ocean - May 2006

Heard Island and McDonald Islands and Australia's Patagonian toothfish fishery

 Northern patrol vessel - ACV Triton

PDF icon Customs and Border Protection Bay Class Vessels

Windows Media Player video Video of the Southern Ocean (1MB)