Wed, 21 May 2003

Over 100 foreign vessels apprehended this year

Muhammad Aziz Tunny, The Jakarta Post, Ambon, Maluku

This year the Navy has caught more than 100 foreign vessels involved in poaching or transporting illegal logs in the waters of east Indonesia and Maluku, a senior Navy official said on Tuesday.

"We have detained more than 100 vessels and they are being (legally) processed," Commander of Indonesia's Eastern Fleet Commodore Moekhlas Sidik said after the anniversary ceremony for the Pattimura Military Command overseeing Maluku and North Maluku.

The captured vessels, he said, were mainly from Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam.

He added that 49 foreign ships were being held at the Surabaya naval base in East Java, another 41 at Sorong, Papua, 21 at Makassar, South Sulawesi and 33 at Bitung, North Sulawesi. This amounts to 144 foreign vessels.

That did not include foreign ships arrested in the waters of Southeast Maluku regency, Moekhlas added.

He said most of the foreign vessels were involved in poaching activities, while others were transporting illegal logs to be sold abroad.

The vast waters of East Indonesia, and a shortage of patrol boats made the area particularly prone to foreign illegal fishing, he explained.

Indonesia loses about US$4 billion a year to illegal fishing, according to Minister of Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Rokhmin Dahuri.

Rokhmin accused Thai fishermen last week of being behind most of the poaching. They control nearly 80 percent of Indonesian waters, using vessels that fly the Indonesian flag, he said.

Government data shows that every year some 3,200 vessels flying the Indonesian flag enter the country's waters illegally.

After Thailand, the most foreign vessels come from the Philippines, Taiwan, China and South Korea.

Lately, the Navy has taken tougher measures to deal with illegal foreign vessels and, if necessary, sunk those that refused to allow Naval officers to board.

In January a Naval ship fired at a Chinese fishing boat, killing one of its crew members, and injured another.

The tightening of control over Indonesian waters is also necessary to curb the flourishing trade in illegal logs. Operating mainly on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan, illegal loggers rely on sea transportation to sell the logs to overseas markets.

Naval Commander Moekhlas said the smuggling of weapons by sea was another threat.

Analysts have said many of the weapons used by the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) came from the Philippines and other Asian countries plagued by armed insurgences.

Last year, the government announced plans for concerted efforts against illegal fishing, mining and logging activities at sea, with plans to improve regulations and maritime security.

The government hopes to standardize trade regulations to plug legal loopholes and avoid confusion among law enforcers over what constitutes illegal trade at sea.

Critics, however, also point to the military itself as contributing to the widespread plunder of natural resources.

There is suspicion that the military is involved in some of the illegal business or at least that it reaps a percentage of the profits in exchange for turning a blind eye.