Vietnam has asked Indonesia to investigate and clarify reports that the Indonesian navy shot and wounded two Vietnamese fishermen in the South China Sea. (Antara Photo/Joko Sulistyo)

Indonesia, Vietnam to Probe Reported Skirmish in Disputed Waters


MAY 24, 2017

Jakarta/Hanoi. Indonesia and Vietnam will launch a joint investigation into a sea incident at the weekend, officials said, after reports that Vietnamese coast guards had tried to forcibly free five fishing boats and their crew detained in waters near the Natuna Islands.

An Indonesian sea patrol intercepted the Vietnamese fishing boats with 55 crewmembers on Sunday (21/05) after they crossed into Indonesian waters, said Rifky Effendi Hardijanto, secretary general of the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

Media said a Vietnamese coast guard vessel had rammed and sunk one of the boats being escorted to an Indonesian base further south on Batam Island.

"Whether it was rammed or not, we have agreed to investigate," Rifky told a news conference, adding, "We have agreed to settle this incident through diplomatic means."

Rifky denied reports that an Indonesian officer on board the sunken ship had been taken hostage by the Vietnamese coast guard in a bid to free its fishermen.

He said the officer had been rescued by the Vietnamese coast guard and could leave Vietnam as soon as the Indonesian government arranged transport.

Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti met Vietnam's ambassador in Jakarta on Tuesday to discuss the issue, Rifky added.

"The two countries' diplomatic departments have contacted each other and worked together to handle it and make sure similar cases do not happen," Vietnamese Ambassador Hoang Anh Tuan said.

Indonesia had sought Vietnam's assurance it would not enter its territorial waters again, Rifky said.

He said the countries would also discuss border issues, since Indonesia defined its border on the basis of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), while Vietnam used the continental shelf.

Indonesia has been holding regular exercises and has stepped up its military presence in and around the Natuna Islands, close to disputed waters in the South China Sea.

There have been confrontations between Indonesian and Chinese vessels in waters near the Natuna Islands as regional tension rises over Beijing's assertiveness in the busy waterway.

In March last year, a Chinese coastguard vessel rammed a Chinese fishing vessel to free it following its seizure by Indonesian authorities.