Indonesian Navy Opens Fire on Vietnamese Fishermen

Indonesian forces capture a Vietnamese fishing vessel near the Natuna Islands, July 21 (Indonesian Navy)

Published Jul 24, 2017 9:28 PM by The Maritime Executive

Vietnamese authorities allege that the Indonesian navy opened fire on a Vietnamese fishing vessel on Saturday evening, wounding four of the six crewmembers on board. Two of the men reportedly required medical treatment for serious injuries.

The SAR agency of Vietnam’s Binh Dinh province said that the incident occurred 130 nm southeast of Con Dao islands, not far from the Indonesian EEZ boundary and the newly renamed "North Natuna Sea." Vietnam and Indonesia dispute the location of the boundary line. 

The Indonesian government would not confirm the skirmish, but it would not be unusual in the region. Vietnamese, Malaysian and Chinese fishing boats have often entered Indonesian-claimed waters over the past few years, occasionally leading to confrontations between Indonesian security forces, trawlers and coast guard escorts from other nations. 

The most serious recent incident occured last October, when Indonesian forces opened fire on two Vietnamese fishing boats, killing one crewmember and injuring two more. The incident led Vietnam to file a formal diplomatic protest. For 2016 as a whole, Indonesian forces captured about 100 Vietnamese fishing vessels and over 1,100 crew. About 800 crewmembers were deported within the same year, but not all returned with their boats: under the leadership of Minister Susi Pujiastuti, the Indonesian Ministry of Maritime Affairs has taken to blowing up or burning illegal fishing vessels as a means of sending a message to would-be trespassers. The policy has made Pujiastuti the nation's most popular minister, and she claims that this visible form of deterrence has led to a 90 percent reduction in illegal fishing in Indonesian waters. 

Malaysia has a similar problem with foreign fishing fleets. All told, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency has arrested 70 Vietnamese fishermen since April, and the agency reports about 22 interdictions involving Vietnamese boats off the island of Sarawak since the start of the year.