Indonesia Sinks 60 More Vessels to Mark Independence

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Indonesia Sinks 60 More Vessels to Mark Independence

Sinkings described as low-key, with identities of the vessels not publicly disclosed.

Indonesia sank 60 more foreign vessels as the country celebrated its independence day this week, officials confirmed Wednesday.

As I’ve written previously, Indonesia under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has launched a tough crackdown on illegal fishing in Indonesian waters, which he 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 sinking of boats from neighboring countries – part of what Jokowi has described as a “shock therapy” approach – in spite of concerns among some of Indonesia’s neighbors. Since Jokowi took office in October 2014, Indonesia had destroyed more than 170 vessels, according to government estimates as of last week.

Ahead of the 71st anniversary of Indonesia’s independence, Indonesian officials had said that the country would sink 71 more foreign vessels. As I noted in a previous piece, Indonesia’s Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti had indicated last month that this would include boats from China.

On Monday, Reuters reported that the new round had begun with the sinking of least eight vessels from the Philippines in Maluku and Sulawesi (See: “Indonesia Sinks Vessels Ahead of Independence Day”).

On Wednesday, Indonesian officials confirmed that 60 more vessels had been sunk.

“Today we offer 60 boats” to be scuttled in eight locations, Agence France-Presse quoted fisheries ministry official Mas Achmad Santosa as saying.

But several news outlets described the sinkings as being toned down, with officials barring media coverage instead of allowing them to be broadcast on national television as they were previously. Officials also did not disclose the vessels’ country of origin. Despite the Indonesian government’s claim that it will treat vessels from all countries equally, in practice revealing the country of origin has tended to be a sensitive topic when it involves ships from China.

Susi herself appeared to acknowledge the shift to a toned-down approach during a news conference in Ranai, a Natuna Islands port. According to the Associated Press, she indicated that though future ship sinkings would be done in a “less sensationalist way,” that would not mean a softening of Indonesia’s commitment to combating the threat.

She also said that six other vessels would be sunk in Pangandaran, which lies on the southern coast of West Java. No official clarification was offered on why the vessels were sunk in different batches rather than all at once, or whether they end up totaling up to the initial 71 number that was touted.