Indonesia to track illegal fishing boats via satellites

JAKARTA • Indonesia will use data from miniature satellites around the globe to pinpoint the location of illegal fishing vessels trawling its vast waters, under an agreement announced yesterday with a Silicon Valley tech firm.

The deal upgrades Jakarta's arsenal against illegal fishing by allowing it to more accurately monitor its remote territory, including in the South China Sea, where Indonesian and Chinese vessels clashed last month.

A memorandum of understanding has been signed between Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti and Spire Global, the satellite-powered data company confirmed. Spire runs a fleet of "nanosatellites" that can detect and track ships as they pass through Indonesian waters.

Ships on the high seas are required by international law to carry a transponder that "pings" information via radio frequency about their identity and location to other vessels in order to avoid collisions.

Spire's satellites, each no bigger than a wine bottle, collect this publicly available data to quickly and accurately construct a global map of shipping movements, and transmit this to the authorities on the ground. Indonesia can then respond to any "red flags" - like a vessel switching off its transponder - that might suggest a suspicious ship is passing through its territory.

It will also give Indonesia a technological edge to closely monitor its vast exclusive economic zone around the remote Natuna Islands in the South China Sea.

Last month, Indonesia was towing a Chinese vessel that it claimed was trawling without a permit near the fish-rich Natunas when Chinese coastguards appeared and rammed the captured boat.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2016, with the headline 'Jakarta to track illegal fishing boats via satellites'. Print Edition | Subscribe