TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - The two-page official memo represents nothing less than a death sentence for foreign and ex-foreign ships operating in Indonesian waters. Signed by Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries Secretary-General Sjarief Widjaja on February 11, the memos have closed all the chances of these ships' owners to resume operations. They must now undergo mandatory deregistration.
This is not unreasonable if the government intends to allow only local fishing vessels to exploit our maritime resources. So far, ex-foreign and foreign boats have been free to aroam our seas, particularly the open sea, trenches and the borders. These boats, weighing more than 30 gross tons, operate freely despite their disregard of the law. The ministry notes that the Rp30 quintillion losses annually incurred by the state was due to illegal fishing.
Illegal fishermen were free to roam because our waters are monitored with an inadequate maritime fleet, so that our coast guards are defenseless or deliberately made to be defenseless against them. This is why the moratorium on ex-foreign boat licenses was put into effect by Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti, as part of the effort to curb illegal fishing. More than 100 foreign boats have since been sunk.
The Illegal Fishing Eradication Task Force's analysis and evaluation during the moratorium point out that all ex-foreign boats have violated regulations. From 1,132 boats, 769 have broke major laws, while the rest have committed minor violations. Sanctions were issued, such as warnings and the revocation of licenses. Though these boats fly an Indonesian flag, they operate under a partnership between local and foreign merchants. These boats are suspected to have violated operational regulations or neglected to pay taxes.
Most of these boats were then entered into the blacklist. But in fact, there are 388 formerly foreign boats owned by 42 companies and 39 individuals that were not blacklisted. According to Fishery Law No. 45/2009, these boats are still allowed to operate after re-registring and completing their outstanding obligations, and after the owners have signed a statement that they will not fish illegally. But the decision to eliminate ex-foreign ships, through the fisheries ministry circular, of course closes this opportunity.
It is thus understandable if the owners of these ex-foreign ships who are still in the white list are now protesting. They see a contradiction between the secretary-general's circular and the regulations, which should still apply. Through various fishermen and fish merchant associations, these boat owners have even filed a complaint to the legislature (DPR). Legal measures can be taken if discussions fail to resolve the dispute.
The marine affairs and fisheries ministry should make sure that the ownership licensing and operational regulations do not conflict with each other. These regulations must clearly define what is allowed and what is in violation. These regulations must also be applied consistently. A policy to provide local fishermen with well-functioning vessels must also be carried out soon and the boats acquired through an accountable and transparent tender.
While the regulations are being cleared up, the fisheries legislation that still allows foreign boats to operate should be revised as soon as possible. This is the only way we can truly control our ocean. (*)
Read the full story in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine