Vietnam, Indonesia agree to end use of force on fishers

By Hoang Thuy   June 25, 2019 | 01:58 am PT
Vietnam, Indonesia agree to end use of force on fishers
Indonesian authorities sink an impounded Vietnamese fishing boat at Datuk Island, May 4, 2019. Photo by AFP/Louis Anderson
Top Vietnamese and Indonesian defense officials have pledged to treat fishermen of either country humanely, avoiding the use and threats to use force.

Vietnam's Deputy Minister of National Defense Nguyen Chi Vinh and Indonesia's Vice Admiral Agus Setiadji discussed on Tuesday the intrusions by fishermen of both countries into the other's territory.

Vinh said that due to limited knowledge of maritime laws, many Vietnamese fishermen had strayed into Indonesian waters and violated the country’s laws. "Their purpose was simply to make a living, and they did not mean to violate the laws. Vietnam doesn’t want such incidents to happen," he said.

He said such cases should be dealt with humanely and in accordance with international laws, including the provisions of the 1982 United Nation’s Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), with respect to the laws of Vietnam and Indonesia. "It should not become a regional issue," he said.

The Vietnamese Coast Guard has been given similar guidlines to deal with foreign fishermen caught in Vietnamese waters. "They are supposed to stop them, not arrest them and restrain from destroying or seizing their fishing gear or taking them to court."

Vinh and Setiadji agreed to use their hotlines efficiently to resolve any incidents in a timely manner without triggering tension that would affect the countries' ties. They also agreed to consider establishing a joint operation team of maritime forces to deal with related fishing incidents.

Recently, Indonesia and Vietnam also agreed to speed up maritime delimitation while starting fresh talks to establish "provisional common guidelines" to prevent fishing incidents, the Jakarta Post reported.

President Joko Widodo met his Vietnamese counterpart Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, last Saturday at the 34th ASEAN Summit in Bangkok, where they agreed to accelerate ongoing negotiations on the delimitation of their exclusive economic zones (EEZ), the report said.

The EEZ delimitation with Vietnam is one of five active border negotiations Indonesia is currently engaged in. In 2003, the two countries reached an agreement on a continental shelf boundaries after 30 years of negotiations. Widodo and late President Tran Dai Quang also discussed steps for early conclusion of the negotiations during the former's visit to Hanoi in September last year.

Since president Widodo took office in 2014, hundreds of foreign fishing vessels have been scuttled -- more than half from Vietnam. Last year, Indonesia destroyed 86 Vietnamese fishing boats for allegedly fishing in its waters.

Tensions rose earlier this year after Indonesia arrested a group of Vietnamese fishermen fishing in an area where Vietnam and Indonesia are delimiting their exclusive economic zones. The Vietnamese boat with 14 fishermen on board was seized and towed away at high speed by an Indonesian ship, causing the Vietnamese boat to sink. 12 fishermen were taken into Indonesian waters, while two were rescued by a Vietnam Fisheries Resources Surveillance's vessel.

Following the incident, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs handed over a diplomatic note to a representative from the Indonesian Embassy in Vietnam opposing Indonesia’s use of force on Vietnamese fishermen, who were operating within Vietnam's waters, 5.5 nautical miles north of the 2003 continental shelf delimitation line.

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