Indonesian boating tragedy off Kimberley coast triggers reflection on border policy – ABC News

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Fishers and maritime experts are calling on the federal government to rethink its “porous”  northern border policy after a tragedy off the Kimberley coast earlier this year.

Nine Indonesian fishermen drowned when a freak wave capsized their boat in March near the particular Ashmore Reef.

Three survivors were picked up and taken in order to Darwin Hospital after spending nearly three days at sea.

The tragedy forced a spotlight on maritime border policy in northern Australian waters, as the Australian Border Force continued to record high numbers of incursions of Indonesian fishers throughout the pandemic.

The particular surviving men told the ABC economic conditions in their home of Rote had resulted in local fisherman taking increased risks to earn a living, including fishing for lucrative sea cumbers within Australian waters during the particular monsoon season.

Three men look at a plaque commemorating people lost at sea in 2022.

Only three crew members survived when their vessel sank between Darwin plus Broome. ( ABC News: Ari Wu )

Commercial fisherman Grant Barker said he had seen the impact of Indonesia’s crippled economy play out in Australia’s northern waters  while working around WA and the Northern Territory coast.

“It certainly tells me that they’re desperate if they’re willing to take that will risk in the monsoon season, ” he said.

“Fishing in those waters from November till [April] is fraught.

A wrecked boat, capsized and half submerged

An aerial shot from the wreck, taken off Ashmore Reef.   ( Supplied: Kupang Search and Rescue )

He said it was OK for fishers with modern vessels.  

“We know where the lows and when they form, and we can time our run back in order to port to get away through them, ” he stated.

“These guys don’t have that advantage. ”

Mr Barker said he believed a combination of the pandemic and border closures had prompted increasingly desperate commercial fishers to encroach on Australian waters.

He said the particular prevalence of COVID-19 within Indonesia had also contributed to a “hands-off”  approach from border force, which only spurred illegal fishers on.

A man in a collared shirt, in front of a beach

Grant Barker fishes  out of Darwin and Broome.   ( ABC Kimberley )

“They know that the federal government in Australia have experienced a ‘softly’ approach to border security over the last two years, ” Mr Barker said.

He said a reluctance to seize boats or take on passengers in sea meant the strongest consequence an illegal fisher could face was being turned back into Indonesian oceans.

“It’s been the stimulus to take it from a relatively small problem to a fairly serious one, ” Mr Barker said.

The number of incursions in Australian northern waters has skyrocketed in recent months, causing experts to heap pressure upon the federal government to re-think how to approach the issue with Indonesia.

Joint working groups between the countries were established recording, resulting in a public information campaign to help educate Indonesian fishers on where they could and couldn’t fish.

Indonesian fishermen wave at the camera from a fishing boat

Indonesian fishing boats have already been spotted around Rowley Shoals and Ashmore Reef. ( Supplied: Harley Cuzens )

But University of Western Australia adjunct professor Vivian Forbes, who studies maritime boundaries,   said it was tough to tell traditional fishers where diplomatic borders existed.

“No matter what education program we give or pamphlets we produce, it doesn’t really sink into the local fishermen, ” this individual said.

“I’ve seen them make paper planes of the maps we give them. inch

Dr Forbes said the perception the Australian government’s policy was “soft”  on Indonesian fishers was not strictly accurate.

“I don’t think we have been really soft, but overall Australia has been very generous to the Indonesian fishermen, and for that matter, to the East Timorese, ” he said.

A man with glasses in a suit in front of a beige background

Vivian Forbes says Australia has been generous in order to Indonesian fishers. ( Provided )

“We need to sit down with them and explain to them —  these guys are fishing in [Australian] waters and we are at our limits as to how much boundary control and search plus rescue we can do ourselves.

“We need to seriously get the two governments together and solve this problem … and make a solid line in the ocean. ”

Indonesian Institute president Ross Taylor said it was critical in developing maritime edge policy that Australian authorities were mindful about the particular challenges the country had  faced in recent years.

“I think we need to take a deep breath and say that whilst the so-called illegal fishing in our waters is of concern, sometimes we [Australia] takes a very focused and slightly arrogant view associated with the issue, ” he or she said.

“We’re talking about people that earn approximately $5  a day – that’s their life, that’s their livelihood, they need to be able to fish. ”

Mr Taylor swift said from the Indonesian perspective, the “MOU box”  in the Timor Sea needed to be reconsidered

The box, near Ashmore Reef exactly where March’s tragedy occurred, bans motorised boats of commercial fishermen and only allows traditional fishers.

“What is needed will be a review of what we call the MOU box completely to allow perhaps restricted use of waters around Ashmore, ” he mentioned.

“One from the options could be with regard to Australia and Indonesia in order to form restricted licences to actually formally allow angling under strict guidelines in order to continue rather than just have it on an ad hoc basis —  so I think there’s a lot we can actually do. ”

A white steepled church with motobikes sitting perched in front of the gates.

Fisherman have already been taking risks at sea partly so they may feed their families. ( ABC News: Ari Wu )

Mr Taylor said rather than a soft approach to ocean going policy, he viewed the Australian approach as “ham-fisted”.

He said a review of the MOU box could be an unique opportunity to encourage relations between the 2 countries.

“The only approach Australia has is to arrest the particular fishers, who are basically poor people who need to fish to sustain their families and then even worse, burn their boats —  ensuring they have no livelihood at all, ” he said.

He said it had been a contrary system that lacked sophistication.

“What Australia and Indonesia needs to do is to sit down to acknowledge that these people, particularly from Rote and villages there possess been doing fishing regarding many, many centuries, ” he said.

“We have to look at the broader context of problems. ”

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade did not respond to specific questions from the ABC about whether there were any plans to review the MOU box or maritime edges.

A spokesman said they were having regular talks and “capacity building, information sharing plus wider maritime cooperation”.

A spokeswoman intended for Fisheries Minister Murray Watt said the government has been committed to “considering a framework”  in dealing with illegal fishing practices.

“The previous government took their eye off the ball in so many areas and it appears this was just another instance of that, inch she said.

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