Singapore anglers avoiding Indonesian waters

Mr Ivan Goh, chief guide of Deep Sea Fishing, with a giant trevally caught last year in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. He said the company has stopped making trips to Indonesian waters where the anglers were arrested as a "precaution".
Mr Ivan Goh, chief guide of Deep Sea Fishing, with a giant trevally caught last year in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. He said the company has stopped making trips to Indonesian waters where the anglers were arrested as a "precaution".PHOTO: COURTESY OF IVAN GOH

Fewer make fishing trips there after recent arrests by Jakarta

Fewer recreational fishermen have been heading to Indonesia for deep-sea fishing trips since 28 people - nearly all Singaporean anglers - were arrested for alleged trespassing and immigration offences earlier this year.

Members of the fishing community here say Singaporeans are instead heading for waters here or in Malaysia.

Two Singaporean boat captains, Shoo Chiau Huat and Ricky Tan Poh Hui, remain in Indonesian custody pending their court hearings in the Riau Islands' provincial capital of Tanjung Pinang.

Shoo was arrested on April 16 in Tanjung Berakit, off Bintan, while Tan and his crew and passengers were caught on Aug 21.

Their passengers, mainly anglers, were deported shortly after being detained but the captains were held for trespassing or immigration offences.

Earlier this month, 10 Singaporean anglers were also stopped for sailing in an unlicensed boat off Bintan island.

Their Indonesian-flagged vessel was said to be sailing in Indonesian waters without valid permits and a proper passenger manifest.

The Sunday Times understands that all 10 passengers on the fishing boat have been released and since returned to the country.

Indonesia has been increasing sea patrols - mainly targeting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing - since President Joko Widodo announced plans to beef up the country's fisheries sector last year.

Anyone who enters Indonesia illegally could spend up to a year in prison, while infringement of the Fisheries Act - which covers illegal fishing - carries a sentence of up to five years in jail.

Mr Joe Ng, 60, owner of Joe Fishing Tackle in Beach Road, estimates that there has been more than a 50-per-cent drop in the number of anglers travelling to Indonesia. He has been in the fishing business for more than 20 years and used to travel to Indonesian waters.

"Those who go regularly to Indonesia to fish are generally above the age of 40," he said. "Such trips often involve spending nights on a boat and can be uncomfortable for the inexperienced."

But anglers enjoy fishing there as they catch more as well as land bigger fish.

Mr Augustine Chai, 48, owner of trip organiser Fishing Affairs, said that since the incidents, around half his customers who were heading to Indonesia either cancelled their packages or chose a local fishing trip. He added that boat captains are being cautious. "Instead of staying 1km away from territorial borders, some stay 2km or more away."

Mr Soh Hoe Jiang, 50, a fishing boat charter operator and boat captain of 16 years, sails to Indonesian waters about twice a week but has seen a fall in bookings.

"Our operations now involve clearance, such as passport and port clearances and customs declarations, with Indonesian authorities before we fish in their waters," he said, adding that customers fish for leisure and not profit. "Problems arise when they consider us commercial fishermen."

Mr Ivan Goh, 37, chief guide of Deep Sea Fishing, which runs fishing charters, said the firm has stopped making trips to Indonesian waters where the incidents took place as a "precaution". While he will be taking customers on a trip to Indonesia next month, he said, they will head to East Kalimantan, further from the area where the arrests took place. The group intends to travel by plane before going out to sea on an Indonesian-flagged vessel.

He added that anglers are attracted to fishing in Indonesia because of the different species found there, such as large stingrays and shovelnose sharks.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 20, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore anglers avoiding Indonesian waters'. Print Edition | Subscribe