Taiwan says its fishing boats shot at in Indonesian waters

Pulau Satumu, where ships start turning into the Malacca Strait.
Pulau Satumu, where ships start turning into the Malacca Strait.PHOTO: ST FILE

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan said on Tuesday (March 22) that it was investigating allegations that an Indonesian ship pursued and shot at two Taiwanese fishing boats in the Malacca Strait, warning Jakarta that violence on the high seas was unacceptable.

The alleged incident occurred just days after Indonesia detained the crew of a Chinese boat suspected of illegally fishing in its waters off the South China Sea, sparking a tense standoff with Beijing.

Taiwan's fishing agency said two tuna longliners were passing through Indonesia's waters early Monday when it was believed they were chased and fired at by official vessels.

Taiwan's foreign ministry has asked its representative in Jakarta to investigate the allegations and establish whether it was an Indonesian government vessel that was involved.

Taiwan's premier Chang San-cheng said authorities suspected a pirate ship was involved, but that possibly a government boat was to blame for the violent clash.

"Even if it is Indonesia's economic zone, our boats can pass by without causing any damage, so there are many things to clarify," he said on Tuesday.

"(Indonesia) should not have used violent means against our boat even if the boat was engaged in illegal fishing ... I would like to state that this kind of violent means are unacceptable," he said.

Taiwan's fishing agency said one of the boats had more than 10 bullet holes. The 20 crew aboard the fishing boats were safe and the vessels were en route to Singapore for a damage assessment, the agency added.

Indonesia's foreign ministry and fisheries ministry said they were looking into the incident, but did not yet have any information.

Indonesia in 2014 launched a tough crackdown on illegal fishing which involves sinking foreign vessels caught fishing without a permit after impounding the boats and removing the crews.

The hardline policy has stoked tensions with Indonesia's neighbours and trading partners. Jakarta lodged a furious protest to Beijing on Monday after the Chinese coastguard intervened as Indonesian patrol ships tried to detain a fishing vessel near islands in the South China Sea.

While Indonesia does not have territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea, Jakarta is nervous about Beijing's growing assertiveness in the region.