RI confronts China on fishing
Haeril Halim, Anggi M. Lubis and Stefani Ribka
The Jakarta Post
The government will issue a protest against the actions of Chinese coast guard vessels that forcibly rescued a Chinese fishing boat that had been caught by the Maritime and Fisheries Monitoring Task Force fishing illegally near Natuna Islands on Sunday.
Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti said her office would summon Chinese Ambassador to Indonesia Xie Feng on Monday to demand an explanation about the violation adding that she had asked Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi to prepare a formal protest letter to be sent to Beijing.
Susi called the intervention 'arrogant' and said it hampered Indonesia's war against illegal fishing, which has seen the capture and destruction of around 120 ships that have been caught poaching in the country's territorial waters.
'The Chinese government does not want to see its ships being sunk. Although the ship has gone, we did manage to arrest its crew for prosecution. It [China] should have not have behaved in such a way because a national government should not step in to support illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing,' Susi said in a press briefing at her official residence in South Jakarta.
The incident began on Saturday at 2 p.m. when Indonesian authorities spotted the Chinese vessel Kway Fey 10078, of 200 gross tons, at the position 05Â°05'866' N/109Â°07'646' E, within Indonesia's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea.
At 3 p.m., the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry patrol vessel KP HIU 011 detained the vessel along with eight crew members, on the grounds of illegal fishing using trawl nets, and escorted the ship to Natuna waters for further investigation.
At 2 a.m. on Sunday, on the way to Natuna, an armed Chinese coast guard ship collided with the towed ship in an apparent attempt to shut down its engine to prevent it being taken to Indonesian territorial waters.
Soon after, another better-equipped Chinese coast guard ship arrived on the scene and ordered the Indonesian patrol vessel to release the ship within 30 minutes in order that it could be taken back to Chinese waters.
Susi said she would demand the Chinese government hand over the Kway Fey to Indonesian authorities.
'We will ask the Chinese government to return the arrested ship,' Susi said.
The incident took place amid rising tension in the region, where several Southeast Asian countries have expressed their concerns over China's land reclamation and over its claims on vast swathes of what is an important shipping corridor.
Several Southeast Asian countries have overlapping claims in the area.
Indonesia is not a claimant in the disputed South China Sea, but it is concerned with Beijing's insertion of the resource-rich Natuna Islands within China's self-proclaimed so-called 'nine-dash' territorial line.
Commander of the Ranai Naval Base in the island of Ranai, Natuna, Col. Arif Badrudin said that the Chinese fishing vessel was conducting its illegal activities within an 83,515-square-kilometer area of the South China sea that is located at the intersection of Indonesia's EEZ, Indonesia's continental shelf boundary and China's nine-dash line.
He said that many Chinese vessels carried out illegal fishing activities in the area, which is heavily guarded by Chinese coast guard ships.
Sunday's incident is reminiscent of a similar skirmish on March 26, 2013 when a Chinese patrol vessel Nanfeng RRC 310 managed to snatch back an arrested Chinese ship, the RRC 58081, from the Indonesian patrol ship Hiu Macan 01 in Natuna waters.
Foreign Minister Retno said that Susi had briefed her about the incident but she declined to make a further comment.
Meanwhile, the ministry's spokesman, Arrmanatha Nasir, said Retno had coordinated with Susi in handling the matter, adding that the ministry needed to examine further the exact position of the ship to determine what action it could take.
'If proven [that the Chinese fishing ship trespassed into Indonesian territory], we are going to take firm action and send a protest to the embassy,' he said, emphasizing that Indonesia did not have any overlapping claims with China over disputed areas in the South China Sea.
China's Foreign Ministry, in a statement sent to Reuters, said the trawler was carrying out 'normal activities' in 'traditional Chinese fishing grounds'.
'On March 19, after the relevant trawler was attacked and harassed by an armed Indonesian ship, a Chinese coast guard ship went to assist,' it said.
'The Chinese side immediately demanded the Indonesian side at once release the detained Chinese fishermen and ensure their personal safety,' the ministry added.
China hopes Indonesia can 'appropriately handle' the issue, it said.
The Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry said the government would deploy bigger ships to guard the Natuna Islands in order for them to be able to resist any threat that could emerge in the future.
Chinese coast guard vessels patrolling in the South China Sea are twice or three times as large as the vessels Indonesia deploys to guard the Natuna waters.
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