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Jakarta Post

First line of defense: Indonesia to populate Natuna waters with fishers

  • News Desk

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, January 6, 2020   /   04:15 pm
First line of defense: Indonesia to populate Natuna waters with fishers

Indonesia is to send some 120 fishers from Java's coasts to operate in the waters surrounding the Natuna Islands in Riau Islands province, its chief security minister said on Monday, in the latest attempt to defend against China's illegal incursions into the nation's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD said the government aimed to counter China's claim over parts of its EEZ by mobilizing a fleet of fishing vessels to occupy and exercise their exclusive rights in waters where authorities have spotted Chinese coast guard vessels still operating.

"We want to mobilize fishermen from Pantura [Java's northern coast] and maybe eventually from other areas outside of Pantura to explore marine resources, go fishing and so on [in Natuna]," Mahfud was quoted by as saying as he received representatives of fisher groups at his office on Monday.

Mahfud said the fishers would also help protect Natuna waters from foreign vessels encroaching the area, although it is unclear if they would be armed.

"You will, in addition to exercising your rights as citizens, also make good on your duty to help defend the country, to show that these waters are ours," he said, reassuring them that the state would increase patrols and protect their well-being. "The important thing is that you are comfortable there. The state will oversee your activities there."

The office of the coordinating minister is also setting up meetings with other stakeholders from the marine and fisheries industry this week.

The Indonesian Navy revealed at end of last month that Chinese coast guard and fishing vessels were repeatedly encroaching on Indonesia's EEZ waters and illegally poaching there over the Christmas holiday, prompting the government to summon the Chinese envoy in Jakarta last week to lodge a formal protest with Beijing.

However, China seems undeterred and has kept its ships in the area. Up until Sunday, the commander of the recently minted Joint Defense Area Command (Kogabwilhan) I said the vessels had remained and had been spotted fishing in waters only 130 nautical miles (209 kilometers) from Ranai, the capital of Natuna regency.

China claimed that, based on its “historical rights” in the South China Sea, its activities in Natuna waters were meant to assert its sovereignty over the Spratly Islands as well as its sovereign rights and jurisdiction over "relevant waters" nearby. China has never made its legal case to support its claims.

Jakarta rejected the asserted historical claims, with the Foreign Ministry saying they were "unilateral, have no legal basis and have never been recognized by the 1982 UNCLOS [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea]".

"We are entitled to explore and exploit the wealth of the sea there, including 200 meters down from the bottom of the waters. That is according to the law," Mahfud said.

An EEZ covers waters 200 nautical miles out from a nation's coastline, and confers it the exclusive right to exploit marine resources in the column of water within this designated area, according to UNCLOS.

Indonesia previously built a marine and fisheries hub at Selat Lampa Port on Natuna Besar Island, the outermost island in the Natuna Islands chain.

Led by then-maritime affairs and fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti, the facility was built to accommodate fishing activities in Fisheries Management Area (WPP) 711, which includes the Karimata Strait, the Natuna Sea and the North Natuna Sea. It is equipped with cold storage systems and other facilities to support export activities and help develop the local economy. (dis/tjs)