Indonesia celebrated its Independence Day by sinking 60 foreign fishing vessels confiscated for illegal entry into Indonesian waters and unauthorized fishing activities.
Ships belonging to the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and China were sunk at eight locations Wednesday along the Indonesian archipelago, reported The Jakarta Post. The Indonesian government had initially planned to destroy 71 ships to celebrate its 71st anniversary, but that plan was later adjusted.
“This is a gift (for Indonesia) and goes to show our consistency in enforcing the law,” said Maritime and Fisheries Ministry official Mas Achmad Santosa.
Since Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo took office in October, 2014, the country has sent around 200 ships to the bottom of the ocean. In April, Indonesia sunk a total of 23 Malaysian and Vietnamese vessels, explained Prashanth Parameswaran in an article in The Diplomat. Jokowi asserts that each year over 5,000 fishing vessels conduct illicit fishing operations in Indonesian waters and cost the country $20 billion annually.
Fishing in waters claimed by multiple states is often an overlooked source of tension between countries in the South China Sea region.
Indonesian Maritime and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti said that the sinking of foreign vessels is an effective deterrent. “I think it is already quite a strong message,” said Pudjiastuti at a press conference in the Natuna Islands.
The sinking of foreign fishing vessels was a lot more low-key this time around, since Indonesia decided that setting them on fire or blowing them to bits is detrimental to the environment. Indonesia plans to use the sunken fishing vessels to create artificial reefs.
Sinking Chinese ships is a bold move. Indonesia took a stronger stance against intrusions by Chinese fishing ships and coast guard vessels into areas around Natuna Island — a territory administered by Indonesia but claimed by China — after The Hague discredited China’s nine-dashed line and vast claims in the South China Sea.
The Indonesian government has already stated it intends to deploy warships, fighter jets, missile defense systems, radar units, and drones to the Natuna Islands. Indonesia also plans to build new ports and improve the airport, reported Channel News Asia.
Pudjiastuti indicated that Indonesia will continue to destroy foreign fishing ships in the future, but the scuttling of these vessels will be much less “sensational.” Six more ships are expected to be sunk near Pangandaran, where the government intends to construct an illegal fishing museum.
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