The Ream Naval Base of the Royal Cambodian Navy yesterday neither refuted nor confirmed a report made by a Beijing-based think tank that over a hundred Vietnamese fishing vessels intruded into the Kingdom’s maritime territory last month.
Admiral Khun Vuthy, spokesman for RCA, yesterday refused to comment and referred the question to Rear Admiral Mey Dina, spokesman for the Ream Naval Base in Preah Sihanouk province.
Rear Adm Dina, who is also deputy commander of the naval base, said he was not aware about the Chinese think tank report. He said he also did not know about any cases of illegal Vietnamese fishing boats encroaching in the Kingdom’ territory.
“We only know the number of Vietnamese fishing boats which are still fishing in the historical waters,” he said, referring to a bilateral treaty on “historical waters” first signed in 1982 by the then People’s Republic of Kampuchea and Vietnam.
According to the treaty, a rectangular-shaped area outside Cambodia’s eastern coast stretching approximately 120 kilometres out to sea with Vietnam’s Tho Chu Island and Cambodia’s Poulu Wai Island at its outer corners is jointly administered by the two nations.
Rear Adm Dina said between 90 to 100 Vietnamese fishing boats are found fishing in the “historical waters” block when the navies of both nations conduct joint patrols there every three months.
Asked if the Ream Naval Base has any mechanisms to stop or crack down on illegal fishing from neighbouring countries, Rear Adm Dina said the base is not tasked with cracking down on illegal fishing at sea, but has the right to receive reports from other relevant institutions.
“As for the mechanisms of the naval base, we have a clear plan, but we cannot intervene in this task,” he said.
Eng Chea San, director of the Fisheries Administration, could not be reached for comment yesterday, but he previously told Khmer Times that some Vietnamese fishermen are fishing in Cambodia’s maritime territories.
“It’s difficult to stop them [Vietnamese fishermen] because the maritime territories are big,” he said. “The fishermen come to our sea and return to their territory.”
“We lack equipment to use during crackdowns, such as speed boats. Our boats are old,” Chea San added.
The Beijing-based think tank, the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative (SCSPI), which is affiliated with the Peking University’s Institute of Ocean Research, recently published a report titled “Vietnamese Fishing Vessels’ Illegal Activities Remained High in July”.
It claimed there was a high number of Vietnamese fishing vessels conducting illegal activities in the waters of China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia, reporting that in July, a total of 136,198 tracking points of 9,766 Vietnamese fishing vessels were recorded by the automated identification system (AIS).
“In July, a total of 100 Vietnamese fishing boats intruded into the waters of Cambodia in the Gulf of Thailand, which was down by 30 percent from 157 in June,” the report said.
The report also attached the supplied list of the vessel names, time, codes and even locations where the encroachments were made within the Kingdom’s sea territory.
The Chinese think tank also claimed some Vietnamese fishing vessels might come to China’s waters for special missions rather than fishing.
“As is pointed out in previous reports, Vietnamese fishing vessels were, for one thing, conducting illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which is banned by international laws and certainly violates China’s sovereignty and jurisdiction,” the report noted.
In an interview with Khmer Times, Vietnamese ambassador to Cambodia Vu Quang Minh said he had no idea about the statistics mentioned in the report nor ever heard about SCSPI.
“I have no idea how trustworthy their information is so I cannot have any comment on this article,” he said.
However, Ambassador Vu said in general that the fishermen from Vietnam and Cambodia might unintentionally cross into each other’s territory.
“I think in general we are neighbours sharing not only land borders but also sea borders,” he said. “It is understandable that fishermen from both countries from time to time might unintentionally, by mistake, go into each other sea territories.”
He said the two nations have not yet “officially solved” the overlapping sea areas.
“The key points are that both sides have committed to making every effort to inform and educate each country’s fishermen to respect international laws and the territories of each other and deal with the possible accidental, unintentional violation with humanitarian principles, in a peaceful and friendly way, as we, Cambodia and Vietnam, have always tried our best,” Ambassador Vu said.
“We should not allow any third party to divide us or provoke conflicts, hate or confrontation thus to harm our friendship and cooperation,” he added.
In its report, the SCSPI also questioned the Memorandum of Understanding between the US and Vietnam which was signed on July 22 in Hanoi to strengthen the fishery law enforcement capacity.
“The US is expected to help Vietnam fight against IUU [Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing] fishing as well as support Vietnamese fishermen against illegal threats at sea,” the report said. “The question is, the US has no law enforcement power in the South China Sea. Does Vietnam want to transfer its power? Or for other purposes?” the report said.
According to a VietnamPlus report, the new MoU is expected to further promote cooperation between Vietnam and the US as well as the international law enforcement agencies to ensure the sustainable maintenance of marine resources and the fight against IUU fishing.