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5,000 Philippine Tuna Fishermen Filling Indonesian Jails

It has been estimated that there are as many as 5,000 Filipino tuna fishermen detained in jails in Indonesia. Fishermen from the southernmost part of the Philippines, General Santos city in Sarangani are being arrested for illegal fishing violations and kept in Indonesia to face months in custody.

The provincial government of Sarangani is now seeking further investigation into the detention of ten fishermen from the area who were given jail sentences in Indonesia for illegal fishing and entry violations. The chief of the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office, Harmelo Latoja, said that an initial inquiry conducted revealed that the fishermen appeared to be victims of human trafficking. Unclear is how this took place.

Recent reports have indicated that the Philippine tuna fleet is increasing its tuna catch outside of its own waters after hitting maximum yields on its own tuna stocks. The fleets, of both artisanal fishermen on pump boats, mini-purse seiners and large purse seine vessels were left with no other option, than to stop or to move their focus onto tuna fishing grounds elsewhere in the WCPO. For the smaller vessels, the nearest are the bordering Indonesian EEZ waters, for vessels capable of operating at the high seas this meant PNA waters and the High Seas Pockets. Philippine catch in these waters rose from just under 200,000 tons to nearly 250,000 tons from 2011 to 2012.

General Santos, City Mayor, Ronnel Rivera, son of local tuna magnate Rudy Rivera, who has been assisting in the repatriation efforts of Filipino fishermen detained in Indonesia, made the estimation that around 5,000 fishermen from the city and its surrounding areas were currently in custody in Indonesian jails.

He explained that most of the detainees were crew members and officers of vessels owned by tuna fishing companies based in General Santos City and were apprehended by Indonesian naval authorities after entering the country’s EEZ. These arrests reflect Indonesia’s firm policy to protect its own tuna fishing grounds and EEZ against IUU fishermen creeping into its waters. With Indonesia being so close to General Santos, for many tuna fishing companies and their crew the temptation of the financial reward of a high value tuna catch is regularly too great, occasionally resulting in interception of vessels and their crew by the Indonesian navy.

Following the work of the Stella Maris Seafarers Drop-in Center, 25 Filipino detainees have now been deported and returned to the Philippines after spending four to 16 months in jail, three of whom were minors. Group Coordinator Sister Susan Bolanio said that they helped to free the fishermen from their jail sentences and assisted fishermen who had already been freed in returning home.