Indonesia court upholds seizure of illegal fishing vessel
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia says it has won a two-year court battle that confirms the legality of the government’s seizure of a Thai vessel linked to human trafficking and illegal fishing in Indonesian waters.
Minister of Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Susi Pudjiastuti said the “monumental” ruling from a court in Aceh province shows that governments can win in the fight against cross-border crime.
Pudjiastuti said in a statement this week that the ministry plans to make the refrigerated cargo ship Silver Sea 2 part of a museum to teach the public about illegal fishing.
The ship was seized by Indonesia’s navy in August 2015 amid a crackdown on illegal fishing and after an Associated Press investigation showed its links to human trafficking in the fishing industry.
Several months before its capture, the ship and Thai fishing trawlers had abruptly left an island in remote eastern Indonesia, where the Thai fishing industry held trafficked crew members captive, to escape a government crackdown on illegal fishing.
The AP, which was investigating slavery on fishing vessels, subsequently identified where the cargo ship had fled using satellite images from U.S.-based DigitalGlobe that became evidence in the Indonesian government’s court case.
Pudjiastuti said the vessel’s violations included intentionally turning off electronic systems that allowed the ship’s location to be tracked by maritime authorities and other vessels. DNA testing was used to prove that the $1.5 million of fish on board was from Indonesian waters.
When identified in the DigitalGlobe satellite images, the Silver Sea 2 was in Papua New Guinea waters, receiving illegal Indonesian catch from two fishing trawlers in a process known as transshipment.
It was captured by an Indonesian navy vessel off the island of Sumatra after returning to Indonesian waters. The Thai captain was detained and a probe launched into suspected human trafficking, transporting illegal fish and off-loading the catch at sea.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning AP investigation resulted in the freeing of more than 2,000 men from Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, more than a dozen arrests, the changing of U.S. legislation, and lawsuits. However, the global seafood industry continues to be plagued by illegal fishing and labor abuses at sea.