Indonesia to sink 37 foreign ships as part of National Day celebrations

PHOTO: Reuters

In celebration of the 70th year of the country's independence, the government is planning to produce a grand spectacle by sinking another batch of foreign fishing vessels.

The Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry's director general for maritime and fisheries resources surveillance, Asep Burhanuddin, said his office was working together with the Navy and the Water Police to prepare of 37 fishing vessels that local courts had declared guilty of poaching or poaching-related offences in the country's territorial waters.

"There will be a total of 37 ships ready for sinking across the country, comprising 20 from the ministry, 12 from the Navy and another five that the Water Police have handed over to us," Asep told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

Asep said the ministry planned to host an event around the simultaneous ship-sinking next Tuesday, a day after the nation's 70th Independence Day. Asep said this was to ensure that the vessel sinking would not disrupt the celebratory nature of the national day ceremonies.

Last week, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti jokingly said that authorities should sink 70 vessels to mark the country's 70 years of independence.

The ministry also plans to produce a live broadcast of the sinking event on Tuesday morning.

For the event, 14 vessels will be sunk in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, eight in Bitung, Manado, North Sulawesi, five in Ranai, Riau Islands, four from Tarakan, North Kalimantan, three in Belawan, North Sumatra and three from Tarempa in the Anambas islands, near the Malaysian peninsula.

Of the 37 vessels, 17 were from Vietnam, 11 from the Philippines, five from Thailand and two from Malaysia. The ministry has already sent notices through the Foreign Ministry, which will then be forwarded to the respective countries of the vessels.

Two Indonesian boats will also be demolished, after being found guilty of frequent use of unsustainable fishing equipment. Furthermore, a number of Chinese vessels will be absent from the line-up due to unresolved legal processes.

Earlier in May, the government sunk 41 fishing vessels, including the Gui Xei Yu 12661 - the first Chinese-built ship to go down since President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo declared a full-fledged war against foreign poachers in December.

Since then, dozens of foreign boats have been sunk, igniting criticism from the diplomatic community and pro-sustainability circles.

Answering complaints that Indonesia's penchant for vessel-sinking was detrimental to the environment, Asep said that there were positive and negative effects to all government actions.

He said that not all of the boats would be blown up using explosives, and the ministry had taken the necessary steps to empty the ships of oil and sink them at locations far from sailing routes.

"For instance, of all the boats in Pontianak, only four of them will be blown up for spectacle. The ten others will be sunk [without explosives so fish can use them] as artificial reefs," Asep said.

In future operations at sea, he said that the government would not hesitate to sink any foreign ships on the spot, provided that the patrol had obtained at least two pieces of evidence pointing to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities.

Meanwhile, the Navy pledged to continue its operations to catch more foreign vessels involved in illegal fishing. "The Navy will continue to follow orders by conducting sting operations and shoot-on-sight measures against illegal fishing ships. We will also show no mercy to foreign ships guilty of violating laws within the country's borders," Zainudin was quoted by Antara news agency on Saturday.