Jakarta detains Chinese trawler off Sumatra

A member of the Indonesian navy standing before the Chinese trawler Hua Li 8 in Belawan, North Sumatra, on April 23, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

The Indonesian navy has detained a fishing trawler from China that was found off the northern tip of Sumatra, just five weeks after a confrontation between vessels from the two countries raised diplomatic tensions.

The Hua Li 8 was escorted last Friday by two Indonesian navy ships to the Lantamal I naval base in Belawan in North Sumatra province, after Indonesia said it received information that a boat wanted by Interpol in Argentina had been seen in Aceh waters.

Indonesian navy spokesman Suradi Agung Slamet told The Straits Times that the local authorities will investigate if the trawler has breached any Indonesian laws.

"The Argentine Interpol reported to the Indonesian navy that the boat was in Indonesian waters and requested our assistance to make the arrest, so we did. Together with the Argentine Interpol in Belawan, we will investigate whether it has violated any laws in Indonesia, be it people-smuggling, drugs... If they did not break any Indonesian laws, we will hand the case over to the Argentine Interpol," he said.

Another navy spokesman, Mr Edi Sucipto, told Agence France- Presse that one of the Chinese crew members had a gunshot wound to his leg."We are questioning the crew to find out more," he said. "It was not our officers who shot him, he was probably shot by the Argentinian authorities."

The trawler had been reported as poaching for fish in Argentina's waters in late February.

Last month, Argentina opened fire on and sank another Chinese boat said to be fishing illegally in the South Atlantic, after it attempted to ram a coast guard vessel.

The detention of the Chinese trawler in Indonesian waters follows an incident on March 19, when the Indonesian maritime authorities nabbed eight Chinese fishermen from a fishing boat off the Natuna Islands and tried to tow the vessel in. Jakarta said the boat was poaching in its exclusive economic zone off West Kalimantan.

But a Chinese coast guard vessel intercepted the Indonesian operation and managed to free the vessel, leading to a diplomatic spat between the two countries.

The detention of the trawler off Sumatra comes amid heightened tensions in South-east Asia and the South China Sea over contested fishing grounds. Indonesia has ordered to be sunk some 170 fishing boats caught fishing illegally in its waters since 2014, most of them from Vietnam and the Philippines.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2016, with the headline Jakarta detains Chinese trawler off Sumatra. Subscribe