Indonesia on Monday blew up the last of a group of ships internationally wanted for poaching toothfish from southern waters. The destroyed vessel was the latest casualty in the country’s war on illegal fishing.
Since President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo came to power in 2014, Indonesia has launched a tough crackdown on illegal fishing in Indonesian waters, which Jokowi says causes the country to suffer annual losses of over $20 billion (See: “Explaining Indonesia’s ‘Sink the Vessels’ Policy Under Jokowi”). That has resulted in a series of highly public sinkings of more than a hundred vessels from neighboring countries – part of what Jokowi has described as a “shock therapy” approach – in spite of concerns among some of Indonesia’s neighbors.
As part of this ongoing campaign, the Indonesian navy had seized the 1,332-ton, Nigeria-flagged Viking on February 26 while it was operating in the waters of Tanjung Berakit in Riau Islands province south of Singapore. The Viking was one of a half dozen ships dubbed the “Bandit 6” by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a nonprofit group which has been hunting the vessels and was among those who alerted Indonesia when the Viking entered its waters.
“[The sinking of] Viking is a display of the Indonesian government’s efforts and commitment to eradicate illegal fishing,” Indonesia’s Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti said in a statement.
The Viking, which was on Interpol’s most wanted list, was known as a ‘ghost ship,’ having changed its name 13 times and used 12 different flags to elude maritime authorities in several countries. For over a decade as part of the so-called “Bandit 6,” Viking had been known for illegally fishing for vulnerable populations of Antarctic and Patagonian toothfish, also known as Chilean sea bass, in the Southern Ocean.
In a statement, Sea Shepherd said the ship’s sinking “marks the end of over a decade of toothfish poaching in the Southern Ocean at the hands of the Bandit 6.”
According to Susi, the Chilean captain of Viking along with the crew of 10 from Argentina, Chile, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Peru, have been arrested and will be prosecuted accordingly. They could face up to seven years in prison and 20 billion rupiah ($1.5 million) in fines. A multilateral investigation support team from Norway and Canada will also help Indonesia in its investigations.