Our Ocean Conference 2018 : What are Indonesia’s Expectations?

The 5th annual Our Ocean Conference (OOC), one of the major global event on ocean governance began on 29 October 2018 in Bali, Indonesia. Seventy nations, thirty-eigth international organizations, more than 290 NGOs as well as private sector units, seven heads of state and more than thirty ministers participated in the two-day event. The OOC 2018 focused on six thematic areas i.e. sustainable fisheries; marine protected area; marine pollution; climate change; sustainable blue economy; and maritime security. Scores of resolution, communique, and declaration pertaining to the above issues are expected to be released by the attendees. However, Indonesia, the host of the OOC 2018, believes that such events must transcend beyond just statements, and Susi Pudjiastuti, Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries is hoping that the assembly propose more concrete ideas.

Since the adoption of the 1982 United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), often referred to as the the Bible of ocean governance, which the OOC takes note of, is the legal basis of all actions arising from the conference. A plethora of complex governance architectures ranging from protocols, conventions, binding and non-binding multilateral agreements, guidelines, model rules, etc. have been developed to support it. However, 1982 UNCLOS and its related instruments have not guaranteed implementation and compliance.

There are a number of other issues that are unresolved in 1982 UNCLOS, and these remain outside the agenda of the conferences and meetings on the issue of ocean governance. For instance, the scope of application of the common heritage principle, effective exercise of flag state duties and jurisdiction in the absence of the genuine link, and lack of clarity on the application of rule of law in areas beyond national jurisdiction on the high seas remain unaddressed.

The President of the International Ocean Institute has observed that the oceans are in deep trouble despite all the good intentions and goodwill expressed by all stake holders. Further, the human imprint on the oceans has been destructive and unconscionable. Ironically, nations have failed to protect the oceans and marine life. The twin natural disasters, earthquake and tsunami that hit Central Sulawesi province in Indonesia, are just one example of the might the oceans. The ‘deadly twins’ resulted in more than 2,000 lives lost and nearly Rp16 trillions worth of infrastructure and property was lost.

Meanwhile, Indonesia is committed to ensuring the health of the oceans. It is concerned about depleting fish stocks, ecosystem destruction, and sustainability of the seas that adversely impact on the overall health and productivity of the seas. However, Indonesia is yet to settle issues such as the ratification of the Torremolinos Convention on the Safety of Fishing Vessels, 1993 (Protocol), the Standard of Training Certification and Watchkeeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel/STCW-F, 1995, and other guidelines on the Illegal Unreported Unregulated (IUU) fishing issued by FAO and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

IUU fishing is a sensitive issue in Indonesia. Susi Pudjiastuti, the Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries is known for her policy of sinking vessels that are apprehended fishing illegally in Indonesian waters. Speaking to the Jakarta Post she observed that “with 97,000 kilometers of coast line and 5.8 million square kilometers of EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone), it is impossible for us to patrol them all the time. So you have to earn respect, to make sure that people are scared of us and afraid of entering our waters illegally. We have to be very firm, strong and consistent. And a deterrent effect will only work if we are consistent.”

This policy has triggered debate among domestic political parties. The most prominent is that involving the Minister Susi Pudjiastuti, and the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan and Vice President Jusuf Kalla. The latter have demanded that Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries stop her bombing policy on foreign fishing vessels. They have observed that flag state of the sunk vessels have protested against Indonesia’s severe treatment of the vessels caught fishing illegally in Indonesian waters. These vessels are routinely bombed or set ablaze, clearly suggesting that there are several loopholes in Indonesia judicial system especially those relating to fishing vessels and related businesses. Further, the bombing policy is legally untenable since there is no national Fishing Vessel Register in place in Indonesia as required by the Torremolinos Convention, under which it is mandatory to register all fishing vessels, list all crew employed in the fisheries industry, making the entire operations fully legal. Additionally, Indonesia is not a party to the convention. It is completely unimaginable to launch a national “fight against illegal fishing” in the absence of international legal instruments and national legal processes.

Mr Siswanto Rusdi is Director National Maritime Institute, Jakarta, Indonesia.

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