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Indonesia Sinks 60 Foreign Fishing Ships

FILE - The Indonesian navy scuttles foreign fishing vessels caught fishing illegally in Indonesian waters near Bitung, North Sulawesi, May 20, 2015.

Indonesia on Wednesday sunk 60 foreign fishing ships it says it captured for unlawfully fishing in its territorial waters. The move coincided with the country’s independence day observances.

The Indonesian government has adopted a firm position against illegal fishing in its waters as tensions between China and other countries escalate in the South China Sea. Last month an international tribunal rejected China's claims to nearly the entire South China Sea.

Indonesian officials are especially worried about China's recent expansion of its fishing fleets and occasional encroachment on the waters of other countries. Indonesian President Joko Widodo expressed his desire to parliament Tuesday to develop his nation of at least 17,000 islands into a regional maritime power.

Many of the vessels were seized off the coast of Indonesia's Natuna Islands, an area where the country's economic zone extends into the South China Sea.

Maritime and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti said the ships were sunk near eight islands to create artificial reefs. Sinking the ships was a stark departure from a previously used method of disposal, which involved blowing them up with dynamite.

China's agricultural ministry, meanwhile, said Sunday it plans to reduce the size of China's fishing fleet, the world's largest, to replenish depleted fishing stocks in Chinese rivers. Minister Han Changfu said there were practically "no fish" in the East China Sea and only small numbers of fish in many other of China's coastal waters.

Han did not indicate by how much China's fishing fleet would be cut, but said the reduction, along with other proposals, would eventually increase the incomes of fishermen.

The ministry said the waters under Chinese control can sustain a catch of up to 9 million tons annually, but yields in recent years have been about 13 tons.