Indonesia is taking a tough stance against China in its fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing by confiscating Chinese vessels and severing recent privileges given to China to fish in Indonesian waters.
After confiscating more than nine Chinese-linked vessels for alleged poaching, the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry said on Friday that the government had also revoked a deal signed with China in 2013 that would give Chinese fishermen an upper hand compared to other countries to fish in Indonesia.
According to the ministry’s director general for capture fisheries, Gellwynn Yusuf, ministry regulation no. 56/2014 on the ban on large fishing operations by foreign vessels had also affected previous partnerships with various countries.
“We used to have a partnership with the Chinese government in the fisheries sector in which they invested in the country. The Chinese ships would then operate in a joint venture with local companies. But now that we have the new regulations in place, all previous partnerships cease to apply,” Gellwynn said.
The government entered into an agreement with China on Oct. 2, 2013 in Jakarta, followed by another meeting in Beijing with Cui Lifeng, deputy director general for the fisheries bureau of the Chinese Agriculture Ministry. The meeting addressed issues concerning a partnership in creating an integrated fisheries estate in Natuna.
“I myself was there to sign the MoU [memorandum of understanding] in China. They were allowed to fish in Indonesia under the condition that they enter a joint venture with an Indonesian company and own not more than 49 percent of the stakes. They have to follow the rules set under the investment law.”
After President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo took office on Oct. 20, Indonesia has upped the ante in its battle against illegal fishing by capturing many vessels from Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, China, Taiwan and Papua New Guinea (PNG).
Citing an annual loss of more than US$2 billion from foreign poachers, Indonesia has sunk three vessels from Vietnam, two from Thailand, two from PNG and one from Malaysia.
In December, the Navy sought to capture 22 Chinese vessels, but only eight were actually caught.
According the ministry, six of the ships are owned by PT Sino Indonesia Shunlida Fishing. The company’s president director is Zhang Shuiming, a Chinese national.
“The ships are registered as Indonesian, with Indonesian flagging. But they did not return to their port of origin to offload their catches,” said Alina Tampubolon, the ministry’s director for ships and vessels.
However, it remains unclear whether Indonesia will sink the vessels as it is still waiting for a court verdict.
On top of the eight vessels, the ministry has also disclosed the confiscation of MV Hai Fa, the biggest ship the ministry has ever captured.
The ministry seized the 4,306 gross ton (GT) tramp service ship under the suspicion that it was conducting illicit practices in Indonesian territorial waters. It was confiscated with the help of the Navy on Dec. 27.
The MV Hai Fa’s 24 crew members, all Chinese nationals, were caught with 900.7 tons of frozen fish and prawns, as well as 66 tons of hammerhead sharks and oceanic white tip sharks.
“The tramp service vessel is from China. It was chartered by Indonesian fisheries companies to export its cargo to China. In terms of sailing legality, it is legal. But in practice it has been incompliant with Indonesian law,” said Alina.
Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti has indicated that she would not sink the ship should the court rule it guilty.
“I would use its cold storage capacity to collect the catches of fishermen and transport the cargo to fish processing plants in the eastern regions,” Susi said.
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