KUCHING: Vietnamese nationals top the list in the number of foreign fishermen detained by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) in Sarawak waters for encroaching and unauthorised fishing. This year, their presence is reported to have spiked significantly, with 196 Vietnamese crewmen and skippers arrested in the first five months in 18 cases of illegal fishing compared to 189 detained in 14 similar cases last year. According to MMEA statistics, Indonesian fishermen are in second place with 81 nabbed in four encroachment cases last year, followed by Thais (28) in five cases. However, between January and May this year, the number of Indonesian fishermen picked up for trespassing dipped to 28.

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In fact, since 2006 until the first week of this month, the MMEA has detained 1,155 Vietnamese fishermen for encroaching Malaysia’s territorial waters, followed by Thais (139), Indonesians (125), Philippine nationals (69) and China nationals (14). Asked to comment on the influx of Vietnamese fishermen, Sarawak Maritime regional director First Admiral Ismaili Bujang Pit said in his view, this was due to fierce competition among fishermen in Vietnam, whose number was quite high.

He said the situation was exacerbated by cases where their presence was encouraged by local companies that wanted to make a quick profit by buying fish from the fishermen while they were still at sea. According to him, fishing boats are required to bring their catch to the jetties to be marketed. “Vietnamese fishermen usually do not resist arrest, and those who are charged will be punished and serve about six months in prison. However when they are released, some return to encroach on fishing grounds,” he said. Hence, Ismaili said the MMEA needed a new approach to address the issue, requiring the enforcement agency to be in the middle of the ocean for a longer period compared to now.