Amid political pressure from China, Indonesia has resumed its tough stance against illegal fishing that encroaches on its territory and depletes its maritime resources.
Jakarta announced on Tuesday that it will sink another 30 foreign trawlers next month to prove its commitment to upholding the law across its vast waters, which constitute a major part of the archipelagic nation.
The sinking policy comes as a consequence of stricter patrols by Indonesian authorities, especially in border areas.
Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti said the Indonesian government was conveying a strong message to poachers from neighboring countries to respect Indonesian sovereignty and stop stealing fish from Indonesian waters, especially in the waters around Natuna that are directly linked to the South China Sea.
“Thieves are thieves. We don’t care from which country they come. We will arrest them if we find them stealing fish in our waters, especially in our [Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ],” Susi said to the press on Tuesday at her office.
The sinking of the boats will take place in a number of ports across the country including in Sulawesi, North Maluku, Batam, Kalimantan and Riau.
Jakarta’s staunch stance in combating poachers has irked Beijing. Three Chinese fishing boats, under the protection of the Chinese coast guard, have been caught in the Natuna waters, in the past two months. China claims the waters around Natuna are part of its traditional fishing grounds.
While playing down Chinese protests, Indonesia has vowed to continue its law enforcement efforts in its waters.
Of the 30 boats that will be sunk in July, 16 have been declared guilty, while the other 14 are in the final stage of the legal process.
The 16 ships include one from China, one from Vietnam, six from Malaysia and eight from the Philippines. The ministry has yet to reveal the identities of the other 14 ships because their legal processes are still ongoing.
The government has destroyed a total of 176 foreign illegal fishing vessels arrested across in Indonesia between October 2014 and April 2016, including 63 from Vietnam, 43 from the Philippines, 21 from Thailand, two from Papua New Guinea, one from Belize and one from China.
Most of the ships, a total of 57 foreign vessels, were arrested in the Natuna waters, which are rich with natural resources. The remainder were caught in Kalimantan, Sulawesi and Papua.
Susi said it was easier to arrest vessels from Vietnam and other neighboring countries because unlike Chinese fishing vessels, they were not protected by coast
Indonesia has protested the involvement of the Chinese coast guard around Natuna, but the protests have been ignored by Beijing.
“We don’t understand why a country wants to protect thieves. We have never acknowledged [other countries’] claims of fishing rights inside our EEZ,” Susi said, adding that Indonesia only had one such rights agreement with Malaysia in the Malacca Strait.
Susi said Beijing had pledged to punish nine fishing vessels that managed to defy arrest and escape to China after being caught fishing illegally in waters near Papua
“I am waiting for their pledge to be upheld. There is no country in this world that wants to risk its good bilateral relationship by protecting illegal fishermen. Even if you steal water from our water, it means that you are water stealer,” Susi went on to say.
Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan said that Indonesia would do whatever it took to protect its sovereignty.
“We will never give up our sovereignty,” Luhut said.
Meanwhile, Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo said the TNI would send five warships to protect Natuna. “A CR 212 aircraft has also been deployed to the region,” Gatot said.
Susi said, furthermore, that 718 foreign vessels operating in the country would be sent back to their home countries because of a lack of legal documents.
These vessels will not be allowed to return to Indonesia because the government has decided that the Indonesian fisheries industry is only for local people.