Kuala Lumpur (ANTARA) - Indonesian Consul General in Kuching, Raden Sigit Witjaksono, arrived at his office on the third floor of the Indonesian Consulate General (KJRI) in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia, early in the morning of May 27.

By 9 a.m. local time, he headed to the Kuching Court Complex to accompany eight Indonesian fishermen hailing from Serasan Island, Natuna District, Riau Islands Province, during their first trial.

The eight fishermen were detained by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (APMM) for entering Malaysian territory on April 19, 2024, once again expanding the list of Indonesian fishermen arrested in Malaysian waters. During the period from November 2023 to April 2024 alone, four similar cases occurred.

The KJRI Kuching has been working to identify the best approach to freeing the eight fishermen and bringing them home, including by reaching out to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jakarta.

“Jakarta suggested that we send a letter of request for the release of the fishermen, considering that they were arrested in an unresolved area,” Witjaksono stated.

He confirmed that Indonesia and Malaysia still have work to do to conclude negotiations regarding five border segments, including one between Riau Islands and Sarawak.

Malaysia has repeatedly pushed away Indonesian fishermen found sailing as far as five miles into its territory. What makes it even more problematic is that the eight fishermen were caught straying 13 miles away from Indonesian territory on April 19.

The Malaysian government has also expressed concerns over the possibility of Indonesian fishermen stealing items, such as cables, found in dormant offshore mining facilities within its waters.

“If that is the case, harsher punishments await the perpetrators,” the consul-general emphasized while noting that stealing is categorized as a crime.

The need for massive dissemination

The Indonesian Traditional Fishermen Association (KNTI) of Bintan District has urged the central government to pay close attention to the arrests of the eight fishermen and their three boats.

Chairman of KNTI, Bintan Sykur Haryanto, deemed it crucial for the government to collaborate with relevant stakeholders to invest even greater efforts to deal with such a case and prevent it from recurring.

Since 2020, the Malaysian authorities have detained several fishermen from Bintan. Some of them were incarcerated, while others were extradited right away.

Haryanto expressed hope that the government would not only pursue the release and extradition of the eight fishermen but also aim for the retrieval of their boats and fishing equipment. In previous cases, the Malaysian government always kept the boats and equipment that it seized.

Furthermore, the Indonesian government has to massively disseminate clear information on the limits of Indonesian waters to fishermen, so that they know exactly where their country’s territory ends.

The issue of territorial sovereignty has become among the top priorities in Indonesia’s diplomatic relations. In the last nine years, Indonesia has reached a conclusion to six agreements on areas sharing borders with neighboring nations, including with Malaysia

Three of the agreements were reached on three land segments in the border region between Indonesia’s Kalimantan and Malaysia’s Sabah during the 2017-2019 period.

In 2021, Indonesia and Vietnam agreed on the delimitation of the maritime boundary between their exclusive economic zones after 12 years of rounds of negotiations.

Later, Indonesia and Malaysia reached more border agreements. This time, the two countries settled their disputes over two maritime segments in the Sulawesi Sea and the Malacca Strait in June 2023, ending the 18-year-long negotiation process.

This year, Indonesia and Malaysia are expecting to conclude negotiations on the settlement of three other land segments connecting Kalimantan and Sabah after 24 years of talks.

Indonesian representatives in Penang have recently facilitated the extradition of four out of five fishermen who survived an incident that occurred in the Malacca Strait on May 16.

Indonesian Consul General in Penang, Wanton Saragih, stated that the four fishermen from Pangkalan Brandan were brought home with the help of KJRI Penang on May 27 from the Pulau Pinang International Airport to Kualanamu International Airport.

Five Indonesian fishermen were on their way from Pangkalan Brandan when their boat was struck by an unidentified container ship early on May 16. As a result, the crew had to jump off the boat and into the water. According to one of the victims, the incident occurred in foggy weather conditions, thereby limiting the fishermen’s ability to decipher their surroundings. Thick layers of fog at that time rendered the fishermen unable to detect and avoid the container ship as it approached their boat.

Four fishermen were saved by a passing ship after spending 10 hours surviving off the wreckage of their damaged boat. Meanwhile, the other fisherman was saved by fellow Indonesian fishermen at a different spot.

Four of the fishermen were then evacuated to a vessel belonging to APMM in Perak, Malaysia. One of the four fishermen was rushed to a local hospital due to serious injuries to his arm and back. All of them were then brought home after having recovered.

It is expected that the incident would encourage Indonesian fishermen to exercise greater caution while sailing, equip their boats with navigation devices, and pay close attention to weather conditions.

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Translator: Virna P, Tegar Nurfitra
Editor: Azis Kurmala
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