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ABF sets fire to dozens of illegal Indonesian fishing boats in defence of Australia’s territorial waters

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Mark Riley
The Nightly
2 Min Read
Border Force is hitting back with extra resources.

Australian Border Force patrols have set fire to dozens of illegal Indonesian fishing boats in recent weeks as they defend the biggest assault on our territorial waters in almost two decades.

More than 200 boats have been seized, almost 1000 fishermen and women apprehended and 48 boats burnt and sunk in two simultaneous operations off the Kimberley and North Queensland coasts.

Operation Sovereign Borders commander Rear Admiral Brett Sonter revealed to 7NEWS today the Indonesian Navy had teamed with the ABF to help stop the illegal armada.

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The fishers have been plundering Australia’s territorial waters for years, including our protected marine parks. But Rear Admiral Sonter says the scale of the illegal invasion has increased significantly in recent months.

More than 200 boats have been seized, almost 1000 fishermen and women apprehended and 48 boats burnt and sunk in two simultaneous operations off the Kimberley and North Queensland coasts.
More than 200 boats have been seized, almost 1000 fishermen and women apprehended and 48 boats burnt and sunk in two simultaneous operations off the Kimberley and North Queensland coasts. Credit: 7NEWS
More than 200 boats have been seized, almost 1000 fishermen and women apprehended and 48 boats burnt and sunk in two simultaneous operations off the Kimberley and North Queensland coasts.
More than 200 boats have been seized, almost 1000 fishermen and women apprehended and 48 boats burnt and sunk in two simultaneous operations off the Kimberley and North Queensland coasts. Credit: 7NEWS

Sixty-five illegal boats were detected in just one day several weeks ago.

“A lot of these vessels we see are what I would call not seaworthy,” Rear Admiral Sonter said.

Adding the message to the illegal fishers from the increased tempo of the twin Border Force operations was clear.

“Don’t do it. It’s not worth your livelihood. It’s not worth your life,” he said.

The modern-day pirate boats are breaching our territorial waters in search of sea cucumbers, known in Indonesia as trepang.

The sea cucumbers are attracting high prices across Asia as both delicacies and aphrodisiacs.

The twin on-water operations Leedstrum and Gannet have seized 18,641 kilograms of sea cucumber illegally extracted by the Indonesian boats in the past six months.

They have also seized about 1000 shark fins and another 5750 kilograms of fish taken illegally from protected marine parks.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neill told 7NEWS the Government was devoting an extra $50 million to ramp up the operations further.

“Hundreds of illegal fishing boats have been deterred disrupted and destroyed by the government to protect our sovereign waters,” she said.

Australian Border Force patrols have set fire to dozens of illegal Indonesian fishing boats in recent weeks as they defend the biggest assault on our territorial waters in almost two decades. 
Australian Border Force patrols have set fire to dozens of illegal Indonesian fishing boats in recent weeks as they defend the biggest assault on our territorial waters in almost two decades.  Credit: 7NEWS/Supplied
Australian Border Force patrols have set fire to dozens of illegal Indonesian fishing boats in recent weeks as they defend the biggest assault on our territorial waters in almost two decades. 
Australian Border Force patrols have set fire to dozens of illegal Indonesian fishing boats in recent weeks as they defend the biggest assault on our territorial waters in almost two decades.  Credit: 7NEWS/Supplied

Ms O’Neill and Rear Admiral Sonter have visited Indonesia in recent weeks, meeting with their counterparts to co-ordinate the joint operations.

Video of the burning boats is also being transmitted around the villages from where the illegal expeditions are setting off in the hope of discouraging further missions.

“There’s good collaboration with Indonesia about understanding that this is a problem that really needs to be kept under control and they’re supportive of the activities that we’re undertaking,” Ms O’Neill said.

Most of the illegal fishers who are charged with offences are run through the courts in Darwin and, if found guilty, deported.

But the inclusion of Indonesian patrol vessels has seen dozens recently taken straight back to Indonesia, their boats and their livelihoods left burning on the Australian seas.

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