JAKARTA - Indonesia on Wednesday detained 200 Malaysians found fishing illegally in its waters, as it moves to stem billions of dollars in economic losses, a senior government official told Reuters.
A crackdown on illegal fishing, which costs the vast archipelagic nation around US$25 billion (S$33 billion) a year, kicked off this week, Cabinet Secretary Andi Widjajanto told Reuters in a rare interview.
The drive is likely to spark tension with countries in the region, as new President Joko Widodo adopts a more assertive stance on the maritime sector of Southeast Asia's largest economy.
"The president has said our maritime sector is in a state of emergency...so we need a new, bold approach and that's why he's declared a war on illegal fishing," said Widjajanto, an expert on defence and foreign affairs. "We are trying to send a clear message to our neighbours like Malaysia and China, which operate illegal ships in our territory, that this is not a normal situation for us." Widjajanto said he expected at least 300 more illegal fishermen to be detained in the next few days.
The comments follow strong rhetoric from Widodo, who called this week for foreign ships to be sunk if they were discovered sailing without permission in Indonesian waters. "Sink 10 to 20," the Jakarta Post newspaper reported Widodo as saying.
"It would make them think," he added, referring to illegal fishermen. "But remember to rescue the onboard crew first."
Indonesia also plans to lodge diplomatic protests with the countries involved, to pre-empt complaints over the capture of their citizens, said Widjajanto.
Indonesia aims to launch a new coastguard force in mid-December tasked with preventing piracy and illegal fishing, and safeguarding maritime borders, the chief security minister told Reuters last week.