Indonesian Vessel Opens Fire on Taiwan Fishing Boats

Indonesian Vessel Opens Fire on Taiwan Fishing Boats
The Indonesian government sinking illegal fishing boats on March 14. Photo Credit:AP/ 達志影像

What you need to know

On March 21, two Taiwan fishing boats were fired upon while crossing the Malacca Strait. While the identity of the vessel that opened fire is still unclear, fishermen believe it is an official vessel of the Indonesian maritime force.

Translated and compiled by Yuan-ling Liang

On March 21, Taiwan fishing boats Sheng Te Tsai and the Lien I Hsing No. 116 reported back at 5 a.m. that an Indonesian vessel opened fire towards them. The owners of the boats say they believe the vessel belongs to the Indonesian military.

Last November, Sheng Te Tsai and the Lien I Hsing No. 116 left from Tungkang, Pingtung to Sumatra for fishing. Yesterday, when they were crossing the Malacca Strait and heading to Singapore, an Indonesian vessel chased after them and fired upon them at least 16 times. The gunfire was even targeting the helm, but fortunately all faculties remained safe after leaving the area. They expect to arrive in Singapore in two days and the Lien I Hsing No. 116 will return to Taiwan.

Identification of the shooting vessel remains unclear

Lin Nan-yang, owner of the Sheng Te Tsai, tells Liberty Times that both boats were not performing any fishing activities while crossing the strait, but the vessel suddenly started shooting at them in the dark. The crew members believe the vessel is a patrol ship belonging to the Indonesian military since the number “2804” was seen printed on the boat, which is usually only used for official vessels. After arriving at the coast of Malaysia, they checked the body of the Sheng Te Tsai and found at least 12 bullet holes, all of which were outside of the helms.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is now investigating the incident.

Ismail Mae, director of the Press Information Division at the Taipei Economic and Trade Office in Indonesia, says the vessel may also belong to pirates since there are plenty of them on the strait. Mae also states that they will contact Indonesian officials to clarify the situation.

However, Tsai Pao-hsing, chief executive of the Liuchiu Fishermen’s Association, does not agree with Mae’s speculation and demands an apology from the Indonesian government.

“It’s very obvious that they were posing a threat to the lives of the Taiwanese fishermen,” says Tsai. He also asks for punishment on the Indonesian maritime force and compensation for the ship owners.

Maritime tension keeps rising in Southeast Asia

The Malacca Strait is not considered high seas and belongs to three countries nearby, namely Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. While Indonesia mainly controls the sea lane, Singapore controls the smallest area but enjoys most shipping benefits.

According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, boats are granted “innocent passage” when passing through the territorial waters of another state and should remain “not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State.” This includes fishing and any other activity that can possibly harm the littoral states.

On March 14, the Indonesian government sank 14 foreign illegal fishing boats to inform the world of their sovereignty on the sea. The move is considered a warning to China regarding Xi’s expanding territorial policy.

Edited by Olivia Yang

“Taiwan boats shot at in Strait of Malacca" (Taipei Times)
“Liouciou group demands Indonesian apology for fishing boat attack" (Focus Taiwan)
Liberty Times
“Who Owns the Malacca Strait?" (Jakarta Post)
“Indonesia sinks 41 illegal fishing boats, including one from China" (Today Online)