Above: Two Papua New Guinea-flagged ships are blown up in Indonesian waters after officials seized them and detained their crew. These are just two of the latest in a string of illegal vessels that have been blown up by the government in an attempt to deter illegal fishing. Photo: Izaac Mulyawan/REUTERS
Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo is taking a definitively militant stance against illegal fishing. It’s part of what he calls Indonesia’s new policy of “shock therapy” towards illegal poachers. He sank three Vietnamese ships just last week, telling the Antara News Agency, “We sunk three of them on Friday to teach them a lesson, so that they will give up poaching in Indonesian waters.” Last Sunday, Widodo’s government reported that it had detained and detonated and sunk 22 vessels from China alone (after emptying their fuel). Within five days of the “shock therapy” announcement, Indonesia had detained 155 foreign fishing boats. Still, this is a relative drop in the bucket.
“Every day there [are] around 5,400 [foreign] boats in our ocean and our sea,” Widodo told The Wall Street Journal. “And 90% of them are illegal. So to give shock therapy to them, of course, we [are] sinking them.”
Taiwan’s fisheries agency is pleading with Indonesia that it follow international protocol regarding illegal fishing activity, which allows for the seizure of vessels and arrests of crew, but forbids nation-states from opening fire, which is generally considered an act of war. Vietnam and Papua New Guinea — two nations in high tension with Indonesia — are likewise not pleased.
Interestingly too, many Indonesian fishermen are also angry at the president’s actions. Surely, they reason, an Indonesian fisherman could have adopted a newly seized boat, rather than watch it be filled with explosives and sent to the depths to rot. Another factor is that many of these foreign-flagged vessels are actually employing Indonesians. Likewise, many Indonesian captains are actually operating foreign flagged vessels in their home waters. In short, the issue is considerably more complicated than it would at first seem.