Indonesia: Govt to merge antipoaching taskforce, combat unit

Tama Salim, The Jakarta Post 4 Jan 16;

The Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry has started to wind down the operation of its illegal fishing prevention task force, incorporating it into a newer combat task force to ensure the continuity of government efforts against rampant poaching in Indonesian waters.

According to prevention task force head Mas Achmad Santosa, the unit’s previous functions will be merged with those of the Presidential Task Force on Combating Illegal Fishing, effectively nixing any concerns of an overlap in authority.

“The work of the prevention task force will be carried over to [the new task force], but since they are more focused on [law enforcement], we will help out with data collection and vessel monitoring,” Achmad said on Wednesday.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo formally established the combat task force by issuing Presidential Regulation (Perpres) No. 115/2015 on Oct. 19.

The presidential task force aims to optimize the use of existing personnel and operational facilities from various institutions — including the navy, the National Police, the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) and the Maritime Security Board (Bakamla) — to eradicate illegal fishing in the country.

Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti leads the presidential task force in consultation with the Coordinating Maritime Affairs Ministry and the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Ministry.

Since its inception early this year, Achmad’s prevention task force has played a large part in mapping out the challenges of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

One of its main functions was to conduct the ANEV, a compliance audit on 1,132 foreign-built fishing vessels, to coincide with a temporary ban on license issuance. As a result of the audit, the ministry has revoked 15 business permits and 276 operational permits and frozen 61 others.

The latest monitoring data show that 409 vessels that were subject to the audit have now left the country.

“Going forward [with the new task force], it is important that security at the level of the port authorities is strengthened. We’re aware that the ships that fled may still be used for illicit operations abroad,” Achmad explained.

The former anticorruption activist said his task force had initiated a blacklist for serious offenders, which will be shared with Interpol, among other entities.

With information gleaned from the audit, Achmad said the task force had proceeded to identify loopholes in existing regulations and provide constructive policy recommendations and a roadmap for good governance in the sector.

The audit also helped the task force uncover eight forms of fisheries-related crimes, including tax evasion, money laundering, forced labor, human trafficking and contraband smuggling.

The task force was additionally tasked with vessel movement and tracking-system assessment, as well as monitoring the progress of ongoing cases and trials across the country.

Navy deputy chief of staff Rear Admiral Widodo, who oversees the presidential task force’s day-to-day operations, said on Monday that the team would continue to investigate possible signs of foul play by fisheries businesses.

“We’ve found issues with unaccountable business permits, unreported catches [...] and export activities that fall short of the requirements,” Widodo said in Jakarta.

The flag officer said that the ministry would focus on guarding the Arafura Sea, North Halmahera and Natuna, three areas among the most vulnerable to poaching.

“In 2016, the first thing we will do is focus on the Arafura Sea, the Halmahera region bordering the Pacific Ocean and Natuna waters. These places are the focus of our operations and are well-known for poaching,” Widodo said.

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