When President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo came to power in 2014 he vowed to turn the sprawling nation into a “global maritime fulcrum” between the Indian and Pacific oceans and that has mainly been expressed in clamping down on illegal fishing. Indonesia is the world’s second largest fish producer but Jokowi states that more than 5,000 ships operate illegally in Indonesian waters each year, resulting in annual losses in excess of US$20 billion.
Domestic fishing courts have been established and efforts have been made to clamp down on licensing. The authorities report that this year 110 illegal fishing vessels have been sunk, making the total 317. Last month, Indonesia’s Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Susi Pudjiastuti said, as a consequence, fish production had doubled to 12 million tonnes per year.
“The sinking is evidence that we are dedicated to safeguarding our waters for the future of our nation,” said Susi, according to Tempo.
More sinking ceremonies are being planned across the republic.
On Sunday, seven ships were sunk at Tarempa and 10 at the Natuna Islands (pictured), which is a point of tension with Beijing as its forces expand into the 3.5 million-square-kilometre South China Sea.
The maritime dispute is expected to surface in mid-November when Chinese representatives meet counterparts from Asean.
Collin Koh, a maritime security research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said enforcement against Chinese vessels increased after 2012 around the Natuna chain as it lies within the vague southern extent of China’s ambitions.
“What I understood, based on what Indonesian officials said publicly, is that they don’t recognise a dispute with China exists because there’s simply no geographical coordinates or datum that can accurately pinpoint those lines,” Koh said.
Rear Admiral Wahyudi Hendro Dwiyono, who oversees the sinkings, said there were plans to display seized boats and open a museum filled with the ships to disprove allegations that Jakarta was exaggerating the issue.
Dwiyono said unlike previous sinkings, Sunday’s operation did not use explosives but instead holes were made in the hulls.
The Natuna Islands. Picture credit: MaxPixel