Indonesia detains Chinese fishing trawler in Natuna

The Indonesian navy has detained a Chinese vessel and eight Chinese crew members suspected of fishing illegally in the Natuna Sea, the latest arrest after an incident in March raised diplomatic tensions between the two countries.

An Indonesian warship was conducting patrols last Friday when it detected the Chinese trawler, Gui Bei Yu 27088, fishing illegally in the country's "exclusive economic zone", the navy's Western Fleet Command spokesman, Major Budi Amin, told The Straits Times yesterday.

"We strongly suspect they were poaching fish in our territory because we found fresh fish on the boat," he said, adding that the type of fish caught is identical to those found in the waters there.

"The boat engine was faulty so we had to tow the boat to a port in Natuna. We also arrested eight Chinese crew to question their activities," he said. Investigations are ongoing, he added.

An exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, is a sea zone over which a state has special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources, as prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The Indonesian military said in a statement that last Friday's arrest was a "success in following up the orders of military chief General Gatot Nurmantyo in increasing surveillance at all borders, including the South China Sea".

The arrest also served to "warn the world" that Indonesia would take "firm action" against vessels that breach its laws, it added.

On April 22, the Indonesian navy detained another Chinese trawler, Hua Li 8, in Belawan in North Sumatra province. The boat was wanted by Interpol in Argentina for poaching illegally in its waters.

Earlier, on March 19, the Indonesian maritime authorities nabbed eight Chinese fishermen from a vessel off Natuna Islands which was said to be poaching in its exclusive economic zone off West Kalimantan.

But a Chinese coast guard vessel intercepted the Indonesian operation and managed to free the vessel, sparking a diplomatic spat between the two countries.

Besides territorial claims, disputes over contested fishing grounds have also heightened tensions in the South China Sea.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 30, 2016, with the headline 'Indonesia detains Chinese fishing trawler in Natuna'. Print Edition | Subscribe