Jakarta. Indonesia will send 30 large fishing vessels from the nothern Javanese coast – an area known locally as Pantura – to the North Natuna Sea to help assert the country's sovereignty over the stretch of ocean claimed by China and christened the South China Sea by the Asian giant.
Chief security minister Mahfud M.D. said the move was on the instruction of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo.
The president said Indonesia must maintain its sovereignty over the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the North Natuna Sea.
In January, the Indonesian Military (TNI) was involved in a standoff with China's coast guard escorting Chinese fishing boats into the EEZ.
"The president gave two instructions. First, to protect our sovereign rights over the EEZ granted by international law through the 1982 United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS]," Mahfud said in at his office in Jakarta on Monday.
"Second, to increase economic and social activities in the North Natuna Sea to make it more lively," he said.
Twenty-nine of the 30 vessels will start sailing to the North Natuna Sea on March 10. The other fishing boat is being repaired in Pantura and will follow as soon as it is fit to sail.
Mahfud said the large fishing boats weigh more than 100 gross tons (GT) each and are designed to sail in the open ocean.
The government's plan had been discussed with local fishermen in North Natuna who agreed to let the boats from Pantura operate in their area.
Mahfud said the government is encouraging North Natuna fishermen to operate larger vessels as well.
The government and the local fishermen have also agreed that fish caught in the EEZ will be sold in Lampah Strait, North Natuna, to boost the economy in the area.
The Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla) – set to become the country's sole coast guard – will guard the 30 fishing vessels on their journey to the North Natuna Sea.
"All institutions responsible for maritime security are still on duty, including the Customs Office, the Water Police and the Navy. But the Bakamla will guard those vessels," Mahfud said.