Indonesia’s navy denies shooting Vietnamese fishermen in South China Sea

By: Euan Black - Posted on: July 26, 2017 | Current Affairs

Indonesia denies directly firing at Vietnamese fishermen in a recent incident, the second such clash to have taken place in as many months

An Indonesian Navy patrol ship sails near a fishing boat from Thailand which was caught fishing illegally in Indonesian waters and was blown up and sunk by the Navy in the Aceh Sea, Indonesia, 20 October 2015. Photo: EPA/Hotli Simanjuntak

Indonesia’s navy has said reports that it shot and injured four Vietnamese fishermen in the South China Sea over the weekend are false.

According to navy spokesman Gig Jonias Mozes Sipasulta, the KRI Wiratno-379 warship did not fire directly at the Vietnamese fishermen, but fired a warning shot at their boats after they had trespassed approximately seven kilometres into Indonesian waters.  

Sipasulta said the two boats then immediately left the archipelago’s territory – an account that differs wildly from that originally reported by boat captain Nguyen Thanh Ngo and published in Vietnam’s Binh Dinh newspaper.

“The Vietnamese claims are false,” Sipasulta told Deutsche Welle. “The navy has always taken measured action in accordance with the procedure.”

The Vietnamese newspaper report claimed that four of its countrymen had been shot and wounded by the Indonesian navy even though the boats had never strayed from Vietnamese territory.

The clash follows a similar incident in May, in which Vietnamese coast guards forcibly freed five fishing boats and their crews that had been detained by Indonesian authorities for leaving Vietnamese waters, and typifies the archipelago’s combative approach to policing its territories in the hotly contested South China Sea.

Indonesia has destroyed hundreds of fishing vessels that have crossed into its waters in recent years. In June, it freed a total of 695 Vietnamese fishermen who had been detained for illegal fishing; a further 200 remain in custody.

The area is a major source of tension for Southeast Asia. Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei all lay claim to islands in the region – territorial aspirations that have both sown division in Asean and drawn the ire of Beijing, despite an international tribunal in The Hague ruling against China’s territorial claims in the sea.