Indonesia backs down in row with Australia over torched fishing boats

Singapore: Less than 48 hours after saying it would suspend joint maritime patrols with Australia over the destruction of Indonesian vessels fishing in Australian waters, Jakarta is planning to resume them.

News of Australian authorities’ torching of three boats intercepted last month near Rowley Shoals, about 260 kilometres west of Broome, was not received well in the Indonesian capital.

A fishing boat destroyed last month off the coast of Western Australia.Credit:Australian Border Force

It prompted the head of the country’s Marine and Fishery Resources Supervision agency to declare Indonesia was putting on hold a joint operation aimed at preventing illegal fishing as it sought an explanation for the boats’ destruction.

However, as Foreign Minister Marise Payne stopped off in Jakarta on Wednesday on the final leg of her four-nation south-east Asia tour, the adopted a more conciliatory tone.

A spokesman for the Indonesian agency told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age the Jawline-Arafura patrols with Australia would be resuming following talks with Australian Border Force.

“At the moment, we are discussing when the joint patrol can resume because the bottom line is that both institutions have a long track of cooperation in patrolling illegal practices in fishing areas,” spokesman Didik Agus Suwarno said.

Australian authorities intercepted 16 Indonesian vessels fishing illegally last month, escorted 13 of them out of Australian waters and sunk three.Credit:Australian Border Force

“We have received the information we need related to the incident.”

Indonesia has also sunk confiscated boats located in its territorial waters as a deterrent against incursions by foreign fishermen.

Mustafa Arsad, the head of the Timor Sea Traditional Fishermen Alliance said Australia was within its rights to destroy the boats, which “entered very deep into Australian waters”.

“They have far passed the Ashmore Islands. It was already close to Broome. So it is normal that Australia took action,” he said.

“The [fishermen] did make mistakes. Actually, since early September many fishing boats were sent out of Australian waters by Australian authorities. Perhaps because it happened frequently Australia has now burned down the boats to give a deterrent effect.”

Setting off from East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia’s southernmost province, the fishermen took the risk of entering Australian waters because “the catch out there is better”, Mustafa said.

“But it’s only happened this year. We didn’t fish there last year,” he said.

The offshore raids were conducted by Australia’s Maritime Border Command, a joint ABF and Australian Defence Force taskforce, as part of a new operation against illegal fishing off the Ashmore Island and Cartier Island Marine Parks that was launched in April.

Payne flew into Jakarta to meet with her counterpart Retno Marsudi following a five-day regional trip that had taken in Malaysia, Cambodia and Vietnam.

It was aimed largely at addressing consternation from the region about Australia’s ambitions to acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines under the new AUKUS agreement with the United States and United Kingdom.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is also on a week-long diplomatic mission through south-east Asia, taking in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

The region’s recovery from the pandemic has also been on the agenda and on Wednesday Payne announced a pledge of another 2.7 million vaccine doses to Vietnam, following a previous shipment of 1.5 million shots to Hanoi. Australia has also committed to help the country acquire an additional 3.7 million shots.

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