Photos: Australian Border Force Burns Illegal Fishing Vessels

australian border force
Courtesy Australian Fisheries Management Authority

Published Nov 8, 2021 1:02 AM by Paul Benecki

The Australian Border Force has begun cracking down on illegal fishing in protected marine sanctuaries off the northern coast of Western Australia, intercepting - and in some cases destroying - unauthorized fishing vessels. 

After weeks of protests from Australian tour boat operators about the unlawful presence of Indonesian fishing vessels, the force's Maritime Border Command has heightened its enforcement efforts at Rowley Shoals Marine Park. This protected area lies some 160 nm to the west of the port of Broome, and it encompasses three pristine coral atolls which are a popular attraction for recreational divers.

The area has recently begun to attract fishermen from the southernmost islands of Indonesia, which are just 450 nm away. Australian dive boat operators have complained about a sudden influx of Indonesian fishermen; one skipper told ABC that he counted seven illegal fishing boats on a recent trip. 

"They were out there walking all over the reef and collecting what they could – all within sanctuary zones at one of the most pristine dive sites and wilderness areas in the world," charter boat operator Ross Newton told ABC.

101 Indonesian fishing boats were intercepted off Australia's northern coast between July and October, according to the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA), including 15 which were destroyed. No fishermen were arrested, however, and the presence at Rowley Shoals continued. 

Courtesy AMFA

In a three-day operation at Rowley Shoals last week, the Australian Border Force intercepted 16 illegal fishing vessels and ejected 13. The remaining three Indonesian boats were seized, towed outside of the area and burned.

This enforcement method would be familiar to Indonesian fishermen: it was frequently used by Indonesia's last fisheries minister, Susi Pudjiastuti, as a visible way to penalize Chinese and Vietnamese fishermen who strayed into Indonesian waters. 

"Our message to foreign fishers that choose to fish outside the rules is simple. We will intercept you, you will lose your catch, your equipment and possibly even your vessel. The seizure of fishing gear and disposal of vessels serves as a reminder to those seeking to exploit Australia’s marine resources that Australian authorities have zero tolerance for such illegal activity," said AMFA in a statement.