May 02, 2019 / 11:35

Indonesia stirs up South China Sea by arresting Vietnam fishermen, ramming boat

The Hanoitimes - Hanoi demands Jakarta to immediately release the fishermen and compensate them.

The Indonesian navy force has arrested 12 Vietnamese fishermen in overlappings in the South China Sea, causing Vietnam’s protest, and Hanoi has demanded Jakarta to compensate the fishermen. 
Collision between Vietnamese and Indonesian vessels on April 27. Photo: Indonesian navy
Collision between Vietnamese and Indonesian vessels on April 27. Photo: Indonesia's navy
The Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has sent a diplomatic dispatch to Indonesian Embassy in Hanoi, asking Indonesia’s authorities to verify the case and make no recurrence, the MOFA’s Spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang has said.

Vietnam demanded Jakarta to treat the fishermen well, immediately release the fishermen, and compensate them, Hang said in a statement quoted by local media. 

Earlier on April 29, foreign media cited the Indonesia’s navy that an Indonesian patrol vessel on April 27 seized a Vietnamese fishing boat within Indonesian exclusive economic zone (EEZ). A Vietnam Coast Guard ship hit their patrol vessel after that. 

Indonesia confirmed the arrest of 12 Vietnamese fishermen and said that the Vietnamese fishing boat sank because of “accidental collision”. They also said that two Vietnam Coast Guard ships attempted to protect the Vietnamese fishing boat by hitting the Indonesian vessel. 

Meanwhile, Le Thi Thu Hang said that the fishermen aboard BD 97916 TS were arrested when they were fishing within the Vietnamese waters and in the sea of delimitation. 

Broader issues

While the incident is just the latest in a series that have complicated ties between the two Southeast Asian states, it also points to the broader challenge Jakarta and Hanoi both face in managing illegal fishing and broader maritime issues within their wider relationship, including completing negotiations on their maritime boundaries, The Diplomat has said.

It requires both sides to a multifaceted approach, including agreement on disputed boundaries themselves, adequately policing waters, educating fishermen, and establishing clear rules of engagement and lines of communication between the two countries.

Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelagic nation, has sunk hundreds of illegal fishing vessels from Vietnam, the Philippines, China and other nations since 2014 as part of efforts to exert greater control over its vast maritime territory.

By one count by the Indonesian fisheries ministry in February this year, half (276 out of 488) of the illegal fishing vessels that were seized since Jokowi was inaugurated in October 2014 were from Vietnam. 

Indonesia has also intensified its own approach to strengthening its control of the North Natuna Sea through a string of measures that continue to be rolled out.

But beyond the focus on the immediate fallout, the key question is whether this serious incident accelerates already ongoing efforts by both sides to find a more sustainable approach to managing what is clearly a recurring issue. 

If Indonesia and Vietnam can make clear advances on some measures they have already discussed, whether it be on boundary negotiations or coordination among their various forces, these measures can at least help them better manage incidents when they do occur even if it remains unlikely for now that they will stop entirely, according to The Diplomat.