The Jakarta Post
According to the Natuna regional administration, at least 11 foreign vessels are apprehended over illegal fishing every year, with a potential state loss of around Rp 2 trillion (US$169 million).
Local fishermen have long called for action from the government to curb rampant illegal fishing in the Indonesian waters, but little has been done to solve the issue.
Local media reported that the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Agency (DKP) was forced to release an illegal fishing boat with nine crew members from China in March last year, after a Chinese government warship that came to rescue the crew threatened to fire at a DKP patrol ship.
According to China's nine-dotted line map, part of the waters surrounding Natuna Islands belong to China, a claim that Indonesia has long questioned, but for which it has never been given a consistent response.
Defense Ministry officials claimed that the fishing boat incident never took place, but local authorities as well as local fishermen begged to differ.
Natuna Legislative Council (DPRD) Speaker Hadi Chandra cited the limited amount of patrolling as the main reason behind the rampant illegal fishing in Natuna waters.
'The DKP, for example, carries out patrols only 15 days of the year. Of course that is not enough to cover the whole area,' Hadi said.
The Golkar politician added that the absence of human inhabitation across the majority of the outer islands has made Natuna a haven for illegal fishermen.
To prevent the seizure of the islands by neighboring countries, the Natuna administration built five houses on Sekatung Island, the outermost island in the regency, in 2007, and provides supplies on a monthly basis to the five families intentionally placed there to secure the location.
Though the administration has provided each of the families with a Rp 1.5 million monthly living allowance for the last six years, but many have decided to leave the island.
'Many of the inhabitants have long abandoned their houses and moved to the capital [Ranai]. We cannot blame them because there are no social or economic activities there. They are way too isolated from the rest of the locals,' Natuna Regent Ilyas Sabli said.
The Defense Ministry has agreed to buy each of the houses for Rp 20 million and use them as residences for its personnel in the area.
'It would be unfortunate to leave Sekatung Island uninhabited. We have agreed to buy each of the houses for Rp 20 million. We will put all of our personnel on the island so that they are gathered in one place,' Deputy Defense Minister Lt. Gen. (ret) Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin said recently.
The regional government and the people of Natuna have welcomed the move, saying that the presence of the military in the regency's outermost island, which is adjacent to Vietnam, would help curb poaching by foreign fishermen.
Local officials said they hoped that the military deployment to Sekatung would also help the government reach out to neighboring islands to carry out development programs.
Being aware of the growing threat in border areas, the Indonesian Military (TNI) has taken measures to enhance security efforts, including expanding the Marine Corps and procuring long-range offensive weaponry.
To preserve the country's territory and sovereignty, the Defense Ministry plans to integrate regional resources if the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, under joint-command ' locally known as Kogabwilhan ' are positioned in certain defense flash points, including in Natuna.
The joint-command groups will also be placed in Aceh, Atambua in East Nusa Tenggara, and Papua.
The government will equip each of the Kogabwilhan groups with their own warship fleet, jet fighter squadron and Army units, and each commander will be given the authority to respond to incidents on-site without having to go through the red tape of the military headquarters in Jakarta.
- Margareth Aritonang and Wendra Ajistyatama
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