Illegal fishing activities in the North Natuna Sea and marine pollution caused by the asphalt spill from the vessel MT AASHI off North Nias have been the two main issues discussed in an online maritime security discussion hosted by IOJI on Monday, April 17, 2023.
Nearly four months after the ZEE boundary agreement between Indonesia and Vietnam (December 2022), IUU fishing activities strongly suspected to be carried out by Vietnamese fishing vessels continue to persist in the North Natuna Sea, particularly in the Indonesia-Vietnam ZEE disputed zone.
The ZEE boundary agreement should have had a positive impact by reducing the intensity of fishing activities in the previously overlapping areas. However, uniquely in the context of the Indonesia-Vietnam ZEE, this hasn’t materialized. Despite the announcement of the new ZEE agreement, the exact new ZEE boundaries are still unclear and haven’t been officially published.
Regarding marine pollution, IOJI has detected several polluted maritime areas in Indonesia, including the Singapore-Bintan-Johor Strait, the Java Sea, the waters around Simeulue Island, and the waters off Nias Island.
Marine pollution in these areas is caused by activities such as ship-to-ship transshipment, discharge of pollutants from passing vessels, and the release of cargo into the sea due to shipwrecks.
The asphalt spill from the sunken vessel MT AASHI off Nias Island has been a hot topic of discussion. To date, the spill has extended up to 70 kilometers north of Nias Island from the location of the sinking of MT AASHI.
Satellite images from March 20, 2023, show that the asphalt spill is still ongoing from the wreckage of MT AASHI. This indicates that salvage efforts to raise the sunken ship and mitigate the asphalt spill haven’t been carried out since the ship sank on February 11, 2023. Salvage efforts are crucial to prevent the increasing volume of the asphalt spill.
From the sinking of the ship in February 2023 to April 17, 2023, approximately 80,000 kilograms (kg) of pollutants have been successfully removed from the total cargo of the ship, which was approximately 3.5 million kilograms (kg).
IUU Fishing in the North Natuna Sea
IOJI has detected alleged illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing by Vietnamese fishing vessels in the North Natuna Sea during January-March 2023. A total of 6 vessels were detected through the Automatic Identification System (AIS), and 16 vessels were tracked via satellite imagery operating in the non-disputed area of the North Natuna Sea.
Gabriella Gianova, a member of the IOJI maritime security research team, noted, “It’s possible that the vessels detected by AIS and satellite imagery are the same fishing vessels. Therefore, they can’t be immediately counted as 22 vessels.”
In addition to fishing vessels, IOJI has also detected at least 8 vessels from the Vietnam Fisheries Resources Surveillance (VFRS) patrolling along the boundary line of the Indonesia-Vietnam continental shelf from December 1, 2022, to February 9, 2023.
These findings demonstrate that even before the ZEE boundary agreement between the two countries in December 2022, VFRS vessels had been operating intensively in the overlapping ZEE claim area, contrary to the principle of exercising restraint.