ASEAN Beat

Indonesia War on Illegal Fishing in the Headlines with New Sinkings

The development highlighted the country’s ongoing campaign against illegal fishing under the Jokowi government.

Prashanth Parameswaran
Indonesia War on Illegal Fishing in the Headlines with New Sinkings
Credit: Flickr/JenJoaquin

Last weekend, Indonesia conducted another round of sinking of vessels deemed to be illegally fishing within the country’s waters. The development once again put the Southeast Asian state’s ongoing war on illegal fishing under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo in the spotlight amid domestic and regional developments.

As I have noted before in these pages, one of the most visible manifestations of Jokowi’s emphasis on the maritime realm since coming to power in October 2014 has been clamping down on illegal fishing, which he has himself said is a threat to Indonesian sovereignty and a drain on its maritime economy. While the war on illegal fishing consists of a range of economic, legal, and diplomatic efforts at home and abroad, media attention has unsurprisingly focused overwhelmingly on the seizure and sinking of vessels, especially given the fact that they were initially conducted in a high-profile fashion to maximize the purported deterrent effect.

That has continued on over the past year or so and into 2019 as well. Last year, the ministry sunk 125 vessels, with a majority of them coming from Vietnam. And last week, following the latest clash between Indonesian and Vietnamese vessels tied to the seizure of illegal fishing boats and just after Indonesia had held its recent general election, the sink the vessels policy was in the headlines again as Indonesian Maritime and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti had indicated that Indonesia would be scheduling another round of vessels to be sunk over the weekend.

Sure enough, last weekend, Indonesia carried out a new round of sinkings as had been indicated previously. Pudjiastuti said that 51 foreign ships were sunk on Saturday at five ports across Indonesia. She also reiterated her view that sinking foreign fishing vessels continued to serve as the best possible deterrent to address illegal fishing, noting both the relative reduction in the number of vessels that had been seen in Indonesian waters since the policy had been carried out as well as the rise in fish catches for small fishermen.

Few additional details were disclosed by Indonesian authorities about the sinking itself, which was conducted in a lower profile fashion relative to some initial iterations that were broadcast live. And while no complete breakdowns were released on where the ships had come from, the Fisheries Ministry said in a statement that the seized vessels included 38 Vietnamese-flagged ships, 6 Malaysian, 2 Chinese, and 2 Filipino, with the remaining being foreign-owned ships that used the Indonesian flag.