Malaysia yesterday confirmed that three of its fishing boats were detained by the Indonesian authorities for alleged illegal fishing last month, adding that the move was not consistent with the understanding reached between both countries in handling fisheries-related incidents.
The Malaysian Foreign Ministry also said in a statement that the "arrest may have happened in Malaysian waters". It has protested against the move by Jakarta while Foreign Minister Anifah Aman has raised the matter with his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi.
The Indonesian press last month reported on the incident that occurred on March 3, allegedly near the island of Batam. A total of 14 crewmen were arrested, including two Malaysians who were the boats' captains. Nine of the crewmen were reportedly from Myanmar, while three were from Indonesia.
"The arrest is not consistent with the understanding reached between Malaysia and the Republic of Indonesia in handling fisheries-related incidents," said the Foreign Ministry. The Malaysian consul in Pekanbaru has travelled to Batam to ensure the well-being of the two Malaysians, it added.
On Sunday, Malaysia detained two Indonesian fishing boats off the coast of Penang, alleging that 550kg of fish were found on board. The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency said the vessels have been impounded for further investigations.
On the same evening, the Indonesian Navy held a boat captained by a Singaporean for allegedly fishing in Indonesian waters off Bintan island without permission. On board were 13 passengers from Malaysia and Singapore as well as three Indonesian crewmen. It was reported to be an Indonesia-flagged boat.
Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday that it is monitoring the matter closely and is in contact with the Indonesian authorities, as well as the next of kin of the detained Singaporeans.
Since 2014, Indonesia has sunk about 170 vessels caught poaching in Indonesian waters and impounded 700 others. Most of the ships sunk were from Vietnam and the Philippines.
Last year, two Singapore-registered ships were detained when they entered Indonesian waters in the Strait of Malacca, near Batam.
Tension in regional waters has risen of late as hundreds of Chinese fishing boats have also made repeated forays into territory claimed by South-east Asian nations.
Malaysia and Indonesia recently accused China of protecting the boats, which have reportedly been accompanied by Chinese coast guard vessels.
But Beijing has insisted the vessels were in traditional Chinese fishing waters. Vietnam and the Philippines have also clashed with China over fishing rights.
These alleged intrusions have increased in recent years, as fishermen struggle to bring home the lucrative catches of decades past.