Indonesia holds 200 Malaysians in crackdown on illegal fishing

Traditional fishing boats work off the east coast of Natuna Besar

(Reuters) – Indonesia on Wednesday detained 200 Malaysians found fishing illegally in its waters, as it moves to stem billions of dollars in economic losses, a senior government official told Reuters.

A crackdown on illegal fishing, which costs the vast archipelagic nation around $25 billion a year, kicked off this week, Cabinet Secretary Andi Widjajanto told Reuters in a rare interview.

The drive is likely to spark tension with countries in the region, as new President Joko Widodo adopts a more assertive stance on the maritime sector of Southeast Asia’s largest economy.

“The president has said our maritime sector is in a state of emergency…so we need a new, bold approach and that’s why he’s declared a war on illegal fishing,” said Widjajanto, an expert on defense and foreign affairs.

“We are trying to send a clear message to our neighbors like Malaysia and China, which operate illegal ships in our territory, that this is not a normal situation for us.”

Widjajanto said he expected at least 300 more illegal fishermen to be detained in the next few days.

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