Four Indonesian men have been fined a total of nearly $20,000 after pleading guilty to using a foreign boat for commercial fishing in Australian waters.
On Monday, Darwin Local Court heard the men — aged between 19 and 37 — were intercepted earlier this month by the Royal Australian Navy warship HMAS Albany in waters off Western Australia.
They were found 5.2 nautical miles (9.6 kilometres) inside the nearest point of the Australian fishing zone, on a 10-metre Indonesian boat with four fishing hand lines, three 30-kilogram bags of salt and no catch.
They were “educated” by the crew and then directed to leave the zone by authorities.
Six days later they were spotted by maritime surveillance aircraft deeper in Australian waters, near Sir Graham Moore Island off the Kimberley coast.
Border Force searched the vessel and found four shark fins, 10 kilograms of dried fish, five kilograms of salt, basic fishing equipment, a compass and a mobile phone with two navigation apps installed.
All four Indonesian men pleaded guilty to the same two charges: using a foreign boat for commercial fishing and using a foreign boat in territorial sea.
‘Blatant’ breach of Australian law
The court was told the men hailed from the Rote region of Indonesia.
It also was told the older men — aged 32 and 37 — were the sole income earners for their families and came from “very little”.
However, their defence conceded the act was an “undeterred” and “blatant” breach of Australian law.
Senior federal prosecutor Naomi Low told the court the crime had the potential to impact Australian fish stocks and the environment.
She also said the sale of shark fins was “lucrative” and that fins were often removed from sharks while they were still alive, although there was no evidence of that in this case.
Ms Low said this type of crime had become “more prevalent” since the beginning of the pandemic, likely due to the financial impact of COVID-19 on Indonesia.
In handing down his judgement, Judge John Neill took into account the men’s lack of past offending in Australia and their good character, but noted that the offending was deliberate.
“They were in Australian territorial waters, they knew they were there,” he said.
“I’ve accepted they are poor fishermen, [and] this is the only way they had to make a living — I’ve taken those matters into account as well.
“Irrespective of the personal circumstances of poor people in neighbouring countries, they had no right to come to Australia and interfere with the management of fishing.”
Judge Neill said he was sentencing the men relative to their perceived role in the crime.
The oldest two men were fined $6,000 each, a 27-year old man was fined $4,500 and the youngest was fined $3,000.
All the men were given 28 days to pay the fine or risk up to 38 days imprisonment.
First published on abc.net.au