Fidelis E. Satriastanti
Indonesia and Malaysia have agreed not to prosecute traditional fishermen who unknowingly breach maritime borders, but an activist warns that spats will keep arising unless the borders are finalized.
Fadel Muhammad, the fisheries and maritime affairs minister, said on Monday that the policy not to detain fishermen would only apply in the case of fishing boats of five to 10 gross tons.
“In case traditional fishermen cross their countries’ sea borders unknowingly or by the forces of nature, they will not be arrested but ordered to return,” he said. “However, bigger boats may be captured.”
Yulistyo Mudho, a ministry spokesman, said on Tuesday that offering this leniency to traditional fishermen would help prevent border spats and accusations of illegal fishing in the contested waters.
“Each country claims the area as its own territory, which is what causes these border conflicts,” Yulistyo said.
Riza Damanik, secretary general of the Fisheries Justice Coalition (Kiara), agreed that the lack of certainty on the maritime borders had contributed to the arrests of Indonesian fishermen for poaching.
“Based on our data, in 2010 there were at least 100 fishermen who were caught and detained along the maritime border with Malaysia on accusations of poaching,” he said.
“But if you look at it from the perspective of the fishermen, they’ve been fishing in those areas for a long time ago and they believe it to be Indonesian waters.”
He also accused the Malaysian authorities of trying to “widen their authority” unilaterally and blamed Indonesian authorities for not doing enough to support fishermen caught on the wrong side of the disputed border.
“That’s why the Indonesian government should give priority to resolving the border issue,” Riza said.
Indonesian officials were also failing to take a hard line on foreign vessels caught poaching in Indonesian waters, he added.
“This is a criminal act, but instead of processing it through legal channels, it becomes a political negotiation,” he said, referring to the tit-for-tat arrests of Indonesian officials in Malaysian waters and Malaysian fishermen in Indonesian territory last year.
However, Yulistyo said Fadel had called on his Malaysian counterpart to “be serious” about stopping vessels from breaching the maritime border.
“If they’re illegal, then they should face due legal process,” he said, adding that the minister had conveyed his disappointment at Malaysia’s perceived lack of commitment on the issue.
Yulistyo said the minister also wanted all foreign fishing vessels in Indonesian waters to have at least a 90 percent Indonesian crew.
“The minister wants foreign ships, including Malaysian ones, to abide by our regulations,” he said. “That means they need to set up fish processing industries [here] and hire Indonesians for their crew.”