To Fight Piracy, Indonesia Turns to Seaweed Farming

Indonesian seaweed farm (File image via social media)

Published Dec 29, 2016 9:57 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Indonesian Navy has come up with a novel way to fight recidivism among ex-pirates in the Riau Islands: seaweed farming. Commander S. Irawan of the naval base in Tanjung Pinang told The Jakarta Post Wednesday that the Navy has trained up 15 former pirates to farm seaweed, a more sustainable alternative to maritime crime. Irawan suggested that the participants had been important figures in local piracy. 

An aggressive enforcement campaign has sharply reduced the rate of pirate attacks in the Straits of Malacca, but recidivism is still a serious problem, as illustrated by recent arrests. Three of six men detained for piracy at the Tanjung Pinang base on Monday were "old players," former convicts well known to the authorities, Commander Irawan said. One had served four years in prison for the 2012 attack on the tanker Zafirah, a timeline indicating that he had been released shortly before his arrest this week. One was arrested in connection with the 2013 attack on the Lautan Promise, and one was detained last year on suspicion of criminal activity in Malaysian waters.

To combat the tendency for ex-pirates to return to crime, the Navy's seaweed farming program aims to give them another means of earning a living. Seaweed farming has become an essential source of income for coastal villages across the region, which have suffered as local fisheries continue their long decline. With fewer fish to catch, many villagers are growing Eucheuma seaweed instead. They place ropes laced with starts just offshore, tethered to makeshift floats and anchors, and every six weeks the seaweed is ready to be pulled in. Brokers buy the dried product and resell it abroad for the extraction of carrageenan – an important thickening ingredient in processed ice cream, fire-fighting foam, shoe polish and shampoo, among many other products. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that after expenses, Indonesian family farms – or former pirates – can earn $600 per tonne of dried seaweed.