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Indonesia prepares for mass ship sinking

AAP logoAAP 1/08/2016 Lauren Farrow and Heru Rahadi

More than 70 fishing ships, including Chinese vessels, will be sent to the bottom of the ocean by Indonesia this month, in a public display of sovereignty over its waters.

Following months of tensions in the region over maritime rights in the South China Sea, Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti said they were planning to sink 71 ships deemed to have carried out illegal fishing in Indonesian waters.

The mass scuttling is set to take place on August 17 - Indonesia's Independence Day.

The Indonesian government has previously announced it had caught Chinese vessels fishing illegally in its waters.

But on Monday Ms Pudjiastuti remained tight-lipped as to from where the ships came.

"Based on a joint communique among those countries yesterday, we agreed to mention them only as foreign fishing ships. We don't mention the nation they came from," she told reporters in Jakarta.

A popular figure in President Joko Widodo's cabinet, Ms Pudjiastuti spearheaded the policy of seizing foreign vessels caught fishing illegally and blowing them up.

But this time, she said the ships will be sunk to create artificial reefs.

It's part of a move by Indonesia to combat illegal fishing and protect its sovereignty in the region.

In July alone, the Fisheries Ministry said it had caught 29 ships illegally fishing across the vast waters of the archipelago including off Natuna and Arafura Sea, just north of Darwin.

The sinking of the ships comes after President Widodo's much-publicised visit to the Natuna islands in June, in response to a number of Chinese vessels found in the waters and a subsequent statement by China that it was their traditional fishing ground.

The Indonesian navy fired warning shots at the vessels before later capturing one ship despite calls by a Chinese coastguard to release them.

Indonesia said two tonnes of suspected illegally caught fish were found aboard the Chinese vessel.

Similar confrontations with Chinese boats occurred in March and May when vessels were allegedly caught trawling in the same waters.

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