NATUNA, Indonesia, Aug. 18 (PNA/Kyodo) — In a bid to maintain its sovereignty in the region, Indonesia announced on Wednesday evening that it will seek to change the name of the South China Sea to the Natuna Sea in the area within 200 miles of its Natuna Islands.
Ahmad Santosa, the Chief of Task Force 115, an agency combating illegal fishing, said the proposal will “be given to the United Nations,” adding that “if no one objects…then it will be officially the Natuna Sea.”
The plan would involve renaming the sea surrounding the Natuna Islands, which lie to the northwest of the Indonesian part of Borneo, within their 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
The islands’ mayor, Hamid Rizal, said the change was aimed at helping people to understand that section of the sea belongs to Indonesia, and to help fight illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in Indonesian waters.
On Wednesday, Indonesian Independence Day, authorities sank 60 vessels — 58 foreign boats and 2 domestic vessels — because of such fishing. Most of these were in the Natuna area, which is often claimed by China as a traditional fishing ground.
The same day, Minister of Fisheries and Marine Affairs, Susi Pudjiastuti, said “my ministerial role is dealing with fish and all natural resources from the sea. I do not talk about sovereignty of political territories. I am talking about sovereignty over fish and ocean marine resources. As long as the fish are swimming in Indonesia’s EEZ, they are Indonesian fish. If someone takes it from there, it is illegal.”
Susi added that Indonesia only has a fishing rights agreement with Malaysia in the Malacca Strait. She highlighted that Indonesia does not recognize any traditional fishing ground, referring to Chinese claims in Natuna’s waters.
Since December 2014, Susi’s ministry has sunk 236 vessels.
The vessels are left to become artificial reefs for fish. However, five of them will become a monument in Pangandaran, West Java. Next to the monument, Susi’s ministry will make the International Maritime Museum, assisted by the United States and Norway.
Besides sinking the ships, Susi also held a groundbreaking ceremony for a detention center for illegal fishing on Indonesia’s Independence Day. The building will have a capacity of 300 to 500 people, and is estimated to be finished before the end of 2016.
To develop the Natuna Islands, Indonesia will also build an integrated fisheries area, which will include a 200-ton cold storage capacity.
The South China Sea has been the site of numerous clashes over territorial claims, with China asserting its claim more aggressively in recent months with extensive land reclamation and building of military facilities on reefs and islands in the sea.
China’s claim to much of the sea overlaps land claims by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, and also overlaps Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone around the Natuna Islands.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague recently ruled that China’s claim was invalid, and that it had caused irreparable damage to the marine environment in the region.
Get more stories like this in your inbox!
Sign up for our newsletter and receive regular updates.