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Source: Jakarta Globe

Desperate to combat illegal fishing, the government finally issued legal protection to permit authorities to destroy foreign vessels found fishing illegally throughout the nation’s exclusive economic zone.

The new rule is part of the fisheries law, which was passed by the House of Representatives during a plenary session on Wednesday in Jakarta.

The law allows patrollers who seize illegal foreign fishing vessels to burn and sink the ships — after taking the crew aboard.

“Further regulations to implement the new law will be issued as soon as it comes into effect,” Aji Sularso, the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries director general of fishery supervision, said on Wednesday. Aji headed the drafting committee for the law.

The plan to allow the destruction of illegal foreign fishing vessels was introduced in mid-2008. At that time, the ministry raised the idea as shock therapy to stop illegal fishing, Aji said.

The ministry believed the move would be effective to help prevent illegal fishing activity. It was also considered more efficient than hauling the vessels in and letting special tribunals settle the matter, which could take months. However, until now there has been no legal umbrella for authorities to sink vessels.

“Once it’s proven that a vessel illegally entered the Indonesian economic zone, officers can decide to burn it or sink it or even bring it to the harbor,” Aji said.

He stressed that not all illegal vessels would be destroyed, saying it will depend on the ship’s condition. If the officers who seized a vessel believed it carried diseases or other harmful matter, then it should be burned.

Riza Damanik, the secretary general for the People’s Coalition for Fishery Justice (Kiara), stated that the government should be cautious in drafting implementing regulations. “If it’s not, the regulation could be used by some parties to threaten any vessels in the ocean,” Riza said.

Illegal fishing has been a serious issue for the nation for many years. The ministry believes thousands of foreign fishing vessels are operating illegally in Indonesian waters every year, but only small number of them are ever seized.

The illegal fishers mostly hail from China, Thailand, Vietnam and Taiwan.

The ministry predicted that each, the country suffered losses of around Rp 30 trillion ($3.12 billion) due to illegal fishing activities.

The losses include the depletion of natural resources and the environmental damage caused by trawl-net fishing.

Other aspects to the law include the setting up of fisheries tribunals to hear cases of illegal fishing and sizable rewards to law enforcement officers who successfully detect and bring to justice illegal fishers

(Arti Ekawati)