Malaysia sets boats ablaze, turns up heat on illegal fishing

Two vessels, believed to be from Vietnam, were set on fire off the coast of Kelantan. The burning is aimed at sending a clear message that Malaysia is very serious about tackling illegal fishing.
Two vessels, believed to be from Vietnam, were set on fire off the coast of Kelantan. The burning is aimed at sending a clear message that Malaysia is very serious about tackling illegal fishing.PHOTO: MALAYSIAN MARITIME ENFORCEMENT AGENCY

Move is part of increasing efforts to get tough on foreign vessels encroaching into waters

Malaysia's coast guard agency yesterday torched two foreign fishing boats caught in its waters, stepping up the government's response to illegal fishing and following in the footsteps of neighbouring Indonesia, which blows up vessels caught poaching.

Both vessels were set ablaze off the coast of the northern state of Kelantan.

Datuk Mohd Taha Ibrahim, deputy director-general of operations of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA), did not specify the boats' country of origin, but they are believed to be from Vietnam.

The burning highlights Malaysia's efforts to try to stem illegal fishing.

In June, the Fisheries Department said the country lost 980,000 tonnes of seafood worth up to RM6 billion (S$1.9 billion) each year because of illegal fishing.

The burning came days after the MMEA arrested the crew of a Vietnamese fishing trawler for encroaching into Malaysian waters.

  • $176b

    Estimated value of global fishing trade

    90%

    Percentage of the world's fisheries that have been fully exploited or are facing collapse

    317 

    Number of confiscated boats destroyed by Indonesia since October 2014

Mr Mohd Taha said the decision to burn the vessels was taken as "sinking ships and turning them into artificial reefs has not had any long-term impact on offenders".

"It (the burning) is an alternative measure to send a clear message to the local and international community that the Malaysian government is very serious about tackling this issue," he said in a statement yesterday.

"This is our effort to boost the income of local fishermen as the reefs would turn into breeding grounds, thus increasing their catch.

"The MMEA will continue to ramp up surveillance and patrols to clamp down on crimes committed at sea," he said.

To date, Malaysia has sunk 285 foreign boats caught fishing in its waters.

Indonesia has destroyed 317 fishing boats confiscated from poachers since President Joko Widodo took office in October 2014, in a tough response to protect its territorial waters.

Most of the fishing boats destroyed were from Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia.

Indonesian maritime authorities have also had several skirmishes in the waters off Natuna Islands with fishing boats from China and involving Chinese coast guard vessels.

Datuk Ismail Abu Hassan, director-general of Malaysia's Fisheries Department, was quoted as saying in June that it was estimated that only about half of all seafood caught in local waters reaches Malaysian consumers.

The rest is siphoned off by foreign fishermen invading the country's waters or local fishermen selling their catch to foreign counterparts.

So far this year, the department has recorded 184 offences involving vessels and unlicensed equipment, intrusion, and the use of foreign crew and prohibited equipment.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2017, with the headline 'Malaysia sets boats ablaze, turns up heat on illegal fishing'. Print Edition | Subscribe