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Thayer Consultancy Background Briefing:

ABN # 65 648 097 123


Indonesia’s Policy of Sinking
Illegal Unreported Unregulated
Fishing Boats - 2
Carlyle A. Thayer
May 17, 2019

We request your assessment of Indonesia's policy of sinking foreign fishing vessels


from neighboring countries caught in its Exclusive Economic Zone.
Q1. How contentious is this policy when most countries, such as Vietnam and China,
arrest and release vessels instead of sinking those ships like Indonesia?
ANSWER: Indonesia’s policy of sinking foreign fishing vessels is unique to the region in
terms of the sheer number of fishing boats involved. Reportedly, Indonesia has sunk
488 fishing boats of all nationalities for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU)
fishing since October 2014. In contrast, since 2006 Malaysia has detained 748
Vietnamese fishing vessels and 7,203 Vietnamese crew but has not sunk any of the
boats. Indonesia suspended boat sinking for several months this year but on 4 May it
resumed the practice when it sank 53 boats, mostly from Vietnam.
On occasion Australia has burned and sunk Indonesia vessels caught fishing illegally in
its Fishing Zone on the grounds of a threat of spreading disease. In December 2017,
for example, Australia burned three Indonesian fishing boats and fined their masters
$1,000 each.
Indonesia’s policy is contentious as international law requires the prompt release of
fishermen and their boats.
Q2. How will this controversial act affect the unity of ASEAN?
ANSWER: IUU fishing is an issue that affects all ASEAN littoral states. This is reflected
in the Strategic Plan of Action on ASEAN Cooperation on Fisheries, 2016-2020. This
Strategic Plan calls for ASEAN to engage with regional and international processes “to
improve the governance of transboundary fishing and traceability of fishery products
in order to combat IUU fishing. In particular, improve the regulation and control of
fishing vessels through registries, the use of vessel monitoring systems and effective
catch documentation schemes.” The Plan of Action endorses five activities:
1. Cooperation among ASEAN members and with regional and international
organisations to combat IUU fishing;
2. Strengthen regional and national policy and legislation to implement measures
to combat IUU fishing through the adoption of National Plans of Action;
3. Strengthen regional and sub-regional coordination on fisheries management
to combat IUU fishing, including regional monitoring and control networks;
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4. Build the capacity of. ASEAN members to meet the requirements of Port State
Measure and Flag State Responsibilities; and
5. Implement the ASEAN Guidelines for Preventing the Entry of Fish and Fisheries
Products from IUU Fishing Activities into the Supply Chain.
ASEAN’s Plan of Action for cooperation on fisheries serves as a mechanism in which
Indonesia’s policy of sinking IUU fishing boats can be discussed. Given the norms of
the ASEAN Way, there is no enforcement mechanism. Therefore, Indonesia’s policy of
sinking IUU fishing boats will remain a bilateral matter between the states directly
concerned.
The crux of the matter is that Vietnamese fishing grounds off its central coast have
been both over fished and polluted. This has driven Vietnamese fishermen further
south into contested waters.
Indonesia and Vietnam have an agreement demarcating their respective continental
shelves but they do not have an agreement demarcating the maritime boundary.
According to a report to the 10th International South China Sea Conference hosted by
the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam last year, fishing boats from Vietnam constituted
the largest number of IUU boats in Indonesian waters.
The recent incident when two Vietnamese Coast Guard vessels were involved in the
ramming of an Indonesian Navy ship in order to prevent it from arresting a Vietnamese
IUU fishing boat was a dangerous and irresponsible incident and a violation of the
1972 International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREG).
Indonesia and Vietnam are responsible members of ASEAN and they are both strategic
partners. The two sides should follow the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and
agree to a demarcation of their maritime boundary and in the interim adopt measures
of a practical nature to prevent the dispute from escalating. Vietnam and Indonesia
need to identify disputed maritime areas and without prejudice to their maritime
claims agree on how to manage disputes in this area. Both sides should refrain from
provoking collisions at sea. And both sides should agree on the humane treatment of
fishermen who are detained, an expeditious resolution of any incident, and the
prompt return of any fishing boat and its crew that has been apprehended.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “Indonesia’s Policy of Sinking Illegal Unreported


Unregulated Fishing Boats - 2,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, May 17, 2019.
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other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially
registered as a small business in Australia in 2002.