The difficulty of safeguarding Indonesia’s maritime wealth (Part 1 of 2)

Posted on April 11, 2011

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Siswono Yudhohusodo, Jakarta | Mon, 04/11/2011 11:41 AM | Opinion
Illegal fishing, deterioration of coral reefs, illegal sand quarrying, illegal mangrove logging and illegal immigrants are daily events in our seas.

According to FAO research in 2002, illegal fishing in Indonesian waters reduced Indonesia’s total yearly fish resources of 6.4 million tons of fish by 25 percent. That is 1.6 millions ton of fish stolen in
one year.

Based on international fish prices, illegal fishing in our country caused a loss of about Rp 30 trilion (US$3.4 billion) in one year.

Indonesia exports less than $2 billion worth of fish every year. The world’s biggest fish exporters are Thailand and the Philippines. The word on the street is that 80 percent of the fish that those countries sell is taken from Indonesian waters, in some cases legally, but mostly illegally.

Through the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) it was deduced that fishing vessels operating in Indonesian waters brought their catches directly out of Indonesia — to Pattani and Samud Sakhon (in Thailand), General Santos (in the Philippines), Taipei (in Taiwan), some cities on the Malaysian coast and Hong Kong. The area where the most fish was stolen from was Indonesia’s portion of the South China Sea, around Natuna. The majority of the illegal vessels that operated in those waters were carrying Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese flags.

In the sea to the north of Sulawesi, the majority of illegal vessels were from the Philippines; and in Arafuru Sea, the majority of illegal vessels were from China and Thailand. Other areas that attracted illegal fishing boats were the Indian Ocean — to the west of Sumatra — and in the Indian Ocean — to the south of Java, Bali and West Nusa Tenggara and East Nusa Tenggara.

Not all foreign vessels operating in our seas were illegal. Indeed, many foreign vessels were licensed to fish in Indonesian waters — among them 283 vessels from Taiwan and 230 vessels from Thailand.

However, those operating illegally were far greater in number. Many vessels used the same license number.

For Indonesia, the seas are a potential source of prosperity. This is because of the vast amount of economic resources in our seas. The state must be able to improve its control over our seas and enhance the capabilities of Indonesian fishing vessels.

Of the 20 archipelagic countries in the world, Indonesia is the biggest. The total area of its maritime territories is 3,166,163 square kilometers.

This does not include the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ — which stretches out 200 miles from Indonesia’s territorial borders). This area alone is 2,700,000 square kilometers.

The vast maritime area should be protected 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. However, due to the limited number of patrol ships, only a mere 30 percent of Indonesia’s territory is safeguarded.

Likewise, due to budget constraints, these vessels can only operate 180 days a year. As a result, Indonesia has less than 15 percent of the capacity it needs to safeguard its waters.

There are three institutions charged with maintaining our sovereignty — the Indonesian Navy (TNI-AL), State Water and Air Police (Polairud) and the Directorate General of Marine and Fishery Resources Supervisory (Dirjen. PSDKK) at the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry. The coordinating body of which is Bakor Kamla (Sea Security Coordinating Board). Polairud is in charge of the territorial sea regions and the Navy the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

We have to acknowledge the security mechanism of our sea guarding institutions, whose hard work and effort has been invaluable despite their limited resources. They seized an average of 200 foreign illegal fishing vessels a year from 2007 to 2009. In 2007, 184 vessels were impounded; in 2008, 242 vessels; and in 2009, 203 vessels.

The number of vessels caught was very small compared to the thousands of vessels that managed to steal fish and get away with it.

The government, aware that institutionally the country’s sea safeguarding efforts are not what they should be, has planned to establish a Sea and Coast Guard unit. The Coast Guard would involve nine institutions, including the Navy, National Police, Directorate General of the Marine and Fishery Resources Supervisory (Dirjen PSDKK), Directorate General of Immigration and Directorate General of Customs and Excise.

The writer is chairman of the Pancasila University Foundation and member of the House of Representatives’ Commission IV overseeing forestry, agriculture and fisheries.