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Aust.: Prison sentences for Indonesian fishers

Prison sentences for fishers who resisted apprehension welcomed

The Minister for Fisheries, Senator Eric Abetz, today welcomed prison sentences imposed upon eight Indonesian fishers who resisted apprehension last year.

"This conviction sends a strong message to Indonesian fishers that violent acts towards Commonwealth officers will not be tolerated," the Minister said.

Seven crew members from an Indonesian fishing vessel were each sentenced to nine months imprisonment after they pleaded guilty to charges under Section 108, Obstruction of Officers of the Fisheries Management Act in the Adelaide Magistrates Court yesterday.

The sentences are among the harshest penalties ever handed down to Indonesian fishers following the crew's aggressive attempts to avoid apprehension by Customs and Navy officers.

The Sepakat Jaya Type III Indonesian gill netter vessel was detected in Australian waters by Coastwatch Aircraft and ACV Roebuck Bay on 17 October 2005.

Upon detection, a hot pursuit commenced that continued for several hours. The vessel opposed boarding and HMAS Armidale steamed to assist the ACV. After various attempts to board the vessel, the Indonesian boat was finally slowed.

Officers from the Navy and Customs vessels successfully boarded Sepakat Jaya outside the Australian Fishing Zone, discovering a large quantity of fish, including shark fin and shark bodies on board.

During the opposed boarding, the crew of the Sepakat Jaya threw a number of objects, mainly lead weights. In addition, long timber poles were extended from either side of the FFV and burning hessian bags were attached, and other weapons continually brandished at the boarding party.

Upon boarding, Officers found the foreign fishing crew brandishing knives, a machete and one small hatchet was also thrown.

Yesterday, eight of the nine crew members pleaded guilty to Section 108, and the court handed down a sentence of nine months. However, the court took into account the time they had already spent in detention (four months), and took off another month for their guilty plea, reducing the sentence to four months.

One of the eight crew members had his sentence reduced a further two months on compassionate grounds after hearing news of a tragedy back home.

The Master of the Sepakat Jaya has not been sentenced yet after he pleaded not guilty to the obstruction charge - the court will now hear his matter on another date.

The Minister congratulated officers from the ACV Roebuck Bay and HMAS Armidale for their outstanding efforts in apprehending the vessel, and officers of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, and the Director of Public Prosecutions, for ensuring this successful prosecution.

"This highlights the importance of and success of a multi-agency approach to dealing with illegal fishers," the Minister said.

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