Paramilitary: Indonesia Chases China Away

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November 8, 2017: Indonesia has made it clear that it will not tolerate poachers, even heavily armed ones, attempting to take fish from Indonesian waters. Because of the continued poaching threat from China Indonesia has delayed the planned retirement of its fifty year old Yani class frigates.

These six frigates were originally built for the Dutch navy in the late 1960s and were upgraded several times before being sold to Indonesia in the late 1980s. Indonesia upgraded the 2,900 ton frigates several times since then including replacing the engines. Armed with a 76mm cannon and anti-ship missiles all six were to be retired by 2022 but the Yanis are still seaworthy and capable to dealing with the Chinese seagoing fishing ships that continue to poach in Indonesian waters, often with an armed escort. Indonesia is one of the few nations to use force to keep the aggressive Chinese poachers away. Since 2014 Indonesia has been seizing and destroying foreign fishing boats. Some 200 of these fishing boats have been destroyed, usually by burning them at sea or using explosives or gunfire to sink them. Indonesia justifies this by pointing out that this poaching costs Indonesia over $2 billion a year and Chinese poachers continue to show up, often escorted by Chinese warships disguised as coast guard vessels.

China’s worldwide poaching operation brings in over $20 billion a year. Since China does not officially admit it is organizing and controlling this, and the Indonesians are using large warships with orders to fire on any poacher caught and refusing to surrender, the Chinese are taking most of the losses off Indonesia. For a while China sent warships to accompany flotillas (often ten or more ocean going fishing ships) and protect the poachers if caught and keep the police or coast guard boats busy while the poachers escaped. But Indonesia responded by sending out warships (corvettes and frigates) with orders to fire on any foreign warships caught with the poachers. China stopped sending warships to Indonesia but the poachers kept on coming and Indonesia keeps capturing and prosecuting the crews. The poacher ships are often destroyed as media events, with local news being allowed to capture and broadcast videos of the fires and explosions.

The most frequent site for poaching off Indonesia is near the Natuna Islands. These are 3,000 kilometers from China and within the Indonesian EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone). Waters 360 kilometers from land are considered the EEZ of the nation controlling the nearest land. The EEZ owner can control who fishes there and extracts natural resources (mostly oil and gas) from the ocean floor. In the past China has escorted Chinese fishing boats that were illegally fishing near the Natunas and several times used the threat of force to prevent the arrest of the Chinese fishing boats. Indonesia began sending larger warships to make arrests and the Chinese backed off.

Indonesia only has eight frigates (2,400-2,900 ton ships) and ten corvettes (1,600-1,900 ton) in service. While Indonesia has a lot more smaller armed patrol boats a larger warship (like a frigate or corvette) is preferred when confronting Chinese poachers, especially if the Chinese decide to send some of their larger coast guard ships as escorts. The Chinese coast guard is being augmented with more recently retired frigates and corvettes which have some of their weapons removed as they are converted (with a new paint job and smaller crew) to seagoing patrol ships.

 

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