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Indonesia sink seized illegal foreign ships / photo: antara

Indonesia sinks illegal ships on Independence Day

Yesterday on its Independence Day (17 August), Indonesia again sank 60 foreign ships seized for fishing illegally in the country's waters.

Susi Pudjiastuti, the Maritime and Fisheries Minister said that there are eight locations across the Indonesian archipelago where the ships sunk.

Pudjiastuti told a news conference in Ranai, a Natuna Islands port, that the ships were sunk off Ranai, Batam, Tarempa, Kalimantan, Maluku, and Sorong in West Papua to create artificial reefs.

"We do see at the moment the discouraging effect," she said.

"I think it is already quite a strong message to foreign countries and their fishing fleets.”

The ships were seized in many occasions and held in several locations throughout the archipelago.

Many of the boats were captured off Indonesia's Natuna Islands, the watering area from which Indonesia's exclusive economic zone thrusts into the South China Sea.

Beijing has described the area as a traditional Chinese fishing ground even though it is nearly 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) from the Chinese mainland.

Pudjiastuti has organized the destruction of more than 200 illegal fishing boats since 2014, and this intiative was via the instruction from the Indonesian President, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

The Indonesian government has taken a hardline posture against illegal fishing, to show its neighbours, including China, that it is in control of its vast territory of 17,000 islands.

The Diplomat reported last April, that Indonesia under President Joko Widodo has taken a tough stance on illegal fishing in Indonesian waters, which he said causes the country to suffer annual losses of over $20 billion.

This has resulted in a series of highly public sinking of boats from neighboring countries through 2015 – part of what Jokowi has described as a “shock therapy” approach in spite of concerns among some of Indonesia’s neighbors.

Indonesia finally did sink a Chinese vessel last year so managing tensions with Beijing continues to be an issue, as demonstrated in an incident on March 20 where a Chinese coast guard ship attempted to intercept an Indonesian crackdown on a Chinese boat for illegal fishing, sparking unprecedented rage from Jakarta.

Though Indonesia denied claims that one of the vessels sunk was from China, it emphasized that vessels from all countries would be treated the same under Indonesia’s laws, going as far as to say that this would also include one from the United States, if it intrudes into its terrorities.

“A U.S.-flagged boat will also be sunk if it were to be found fishing illegally in the country,” she said according to Antara news agency.

Addressing the recent incident with China, she said that Indonesia was still awaiting a response from Beijing.

“I am impressed by and commend China’s law enforcement apparatus. I hope they would also respect Indonesia’s laws,” she said

This time, the sinkings were carried out in a relatively low-key fashion compared with previous acts, when boats were blown to fragments and their destruction broadcasted live.

Pudjiastuti has said future ship sinkings would be done in a "less sensational way" but that would not mean Indonesia is relenting on its stance against illegal fishing.

In March, Indonesia used explosives to destroy the Nigeria-flagged Viking ship, which was wanted around the world for illegal fishing of toothfish from southern waters.

The government had planned to sink exactly 71 boats from the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and China, on which was the 71st anniversary of Indonesian National Independence. No explanation is given why this wasn’t carried out.

Pudjiastuti said six other vessels would be sunk in Pangandaran on the southern coast of West Java, where the government plans to build a museum of illegal fishing with the US and Norwegian help.

Local media reports said eight vessels were scuttled on Monday in the eastern Indonesian ports of Bitung and Ternate.