Bribery Common for Illegal Thai Fishing Ships in Indonesia

May 6, 2015 Updated: May 6, 2015

A convoy of blue fishing boats from Thailand slowly entered the mouth of the Kapuas River near Pontianak, the capital of Indonesia’s West Kalimantan province, escorted by an Indonesian warship. The boats were directed to moor at the local Navy base, about 62 nautical miles from the site of their capture. The crew were transferred to the warship. There they sat on the deck.

A naval personnel pointed to a fisherman in a rumpled blue shirt. His name was Sam Phong, 28. He could speak a bit of Indonesian, though not fluently. Still, his words shed a bit of light on why he had so diligently been fishing illegally in Indonesian waters.

Phong said his employer guarantees safe passage for his crew. The reason? “If the authorities show up, just give them some money,” Phong explained.

Sam Phong and 61 other fishermen made up the crew of the five apprehended Thai vessels. The ships were dragging banned trawl nets along the ocean floor in search of Indonesian fish.

According to Phong, the vessels were small and agile so as to avoid the Navy and the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministries patrols.

“There are a lot of fish here,” he said. “I’ve already spent a year here. With each catch, our fiber casks are always full. Each cask measures 200 liters, and each ship carries 40 or 50 of them.”

After reaching capacity, the five ships head toward Malaysia, where a buyer is waiting. When the transaction is completed, the crew are paid. Then they return to Indonesia and do it again.

The boats carry three flags: Thai, Indonesian and Malaysian. They decide which one to hoist in accordance to the territory they are in.

Phong picked up Indonesian as a fisherman in the Natuna Islands off Borneo’s northwest coast. He said he wasn’t familiar with the country’s fishing regulations. It was the captain who determined where to sail and where to lower the net. “I just work,” Phong said.

Informed that trawl fishing can destroy certain types of fish and damage marine ecosystems, he shrugged it off. “There are many fish in the sea,” he replied. “Its limitless.”

Produced in English by Philip Jacobson.


  • Aseanty Pahlevi. “Mengapa Nelayan Thailand Senang Mencuri Ikan di Perairan Indonesia? Ini Pengakuannya” Mongabay-Indonesia. 6 May 2015.

This article was written by Aseanty Pahlevi, and produced in English by Philip Jacobson, a contributing writer for This article was republished with permission, original article here.