JAKARTA - Indonesia and the United States have planned to carry out joint patrols around the outer maritime boundaries of Indonesian territorial waters in an effort to combat illegal fishing and human trafficking, Indonesia's Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries said Wednesday.
According to a press statement, the plan was discussed during a bilateral meeting between Indonesia's Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries Susi Pudjiastuti and U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere Kathryn Sullivan in Washington last week.
The scheme will be further discussed in detail between senior officials from the two countries, the statement said.
Susi said that the idea had been raised during bilateral talks with Sullivan, who is also administrator of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, because "U.S. carriers have a patrol schedule, with one of them passing through the Indonesian jurisdictive waters."
Focusing on illegal fishing with potential human trafficking being involved, Susi stressed that the problem Indonesia is facing now is that many foreign fishing boats illegally catching fish in Indonesian territorial waters do not send their catches to land but transfer them to other smaller boats.
Therefore, she said, cooperation in the form of joint sea patrols and investigation is needed by the two countries and members of the Safe Ocean Network, an initiative announced by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last year with the aim of building a global community to strengthen all aspects of the fight against illegal fishing, including detection, enforcement, and prosecution.
Illegal fishing activities have been on the rise in Indonesian waters, with a series of incidents in the region of the Natuna Islands on the edge of the South China Sea involving Chinese fishing boats and coast guard vessels over the past few months.
On Aug. 17, Indonesian Independence Day, the government sank 60 vessels -- 58 of them foreign fishing boats -- which had been illegally fishing in the country's territorial waters. Most of these were in Natuna waters, which are often claimed by China as a traditional fishing ground.
Since December 2014, 236 vessels, mostly foreign fishing ones, have been sunk by Indonesia.
The South China Sea has been the site of numerous clashes over territorial claims, with China asserting its claim more aggressively in recent months with extensive land reclamation and the building of military facilities on reefs and islands in the sea.
China's claim to much of the sea overlaps with the land claims of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, and with Indonesia's exclusive economic zone around the Natuna Islands.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague recently ruled that China's claim was invalid, and that it had caused irreparable damage to the marine environment in the region.