The owners of 10 fishing boats from China caught poaching in Indonesian waters are appealing to the authorities not to sink their vessels.
This comes after high courts in Ambon and Merauke cities ruled that the boats rounded up in December 2014 had fished without a permit in Indonesian waters, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti told a press conference yesterday.
"We hope that the Supreme Court will pass a verdict to have the boats confiscated as state property and have them destroyed as soon as possible," she said, after watching a live stream of 23 boats from Malaysia and Vietnam being sunk at seven different locations.
Ms Susi has been coming down hard on poachers since taking office in 2014, ordering as many as 174 foreign boats caught in Indonesian waters destroyed.
Apart from the 23 boats sunk yesterday, one Chinese boat is still being investigated for a similar offence, Mr Mas Achmad Santosa, who heads the ministry's illegal- fishing prevention task force, told The Straits Times.
He also said the authorities have identified 1,132 fishing vessels, including 374 from China, that are sailing in Indonesian waters under the flags of two states, one being Indonesia.
"That's double-flagging. Their status is stateless, and that's serious. It's against both national and international laws."
Mr Mas Achmad said Indonesia will prosecute these boat companies if they are found to have committed serious offences - such as evading taxes and operating without a licence - and assist those with minor offences to leave the country.
"No more foreign boats, no more foreign investors are allowed to catch fish in Indonesia," he said.
Indonesia and China were entangled in a maritime row last month after Indonesia accused a Chinese coast guard patrol boat of breaching its sovereign rights by forcibly preventing the local maritime authorities from seizing a Chinese fishing boat.
Ms Susi yesterday called on "big country, great nation" China to respect Indonesia's sovereignty.
"If there's illegal fishing carried out by an American boat, we will sink it too. It's the same," she said.
"I admire and I salute the law enforcement in China.
"I believe the Chinese government will strongly support the Indonesian government in law enforcement against illegal violations committed by Chinese boats. We are waiting for their answer," she said.
In a separate development, the Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia has said that Chinese fishing boats did not enter Malaysian waters recently, adding that they were in fact "quite far away" from the Qiongtai Jiao, part of the Luconia Shoals in the South China Sea.
Last week, Malaysia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had called up the envoy, Dr Huang Huikang, for "clarification as well as to register Malaysia's concerns over the matter".
Dr Huang told the The Star daily yesterday that overlapping claims between China and Malaysia over certain islands and reefs in the South China Sea were a "historical issue", adding that he believed both countries could deal with the issue in "an amicable, peaceful and quiet way".