Govt criticized over spread of HIV in Papua, Maluku

Govt criticized over spread of HIV in Papua, Maluku
, 28 July 2010

Indonesian seafarers have lambasted the government for its failure to control the operation of foreign fishing vessels, which it said has contributed to an increase in cases of HIV/AIDS in the country’s eastern regions of Papua and Maluku.

The Indonesian Seafarers' Association (KPI), which recently conducted a study on the fishing industry in the region, said the presence of foreign fishing vessels had become uncontrollable.

The presence was not only causing only financial losses but also a health disaster, with an increasing number of locals contracting HIV/AIDS from foreigners stopping at fishing ports in the region.

"The Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry and the Navy cannot control foreign fishing vessels, especially those fishing illegally. Our study shows the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS cases are in Tual and Dobo *two fishing ports in Maluku* and Papua's coastal regencies, including Merauke, Mimika and Fakfak," KPI chairman Hanafi Rustandi said on the weekend.

Conducted in cooperation with the ILO and the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), the study recorded 4,745 cases of HIV/AIDS in Papua and 852 in Maluku, while those living with HIV/AIDS are largely sex workers who had reportedly contracted HIV from sexual contact with foreign seafarers.

Official statistics show that HIV/AIDS cases have been increasing throughout Indonesia, with at least 300,000 people reportedly living with HIV/AIDS at present, but the true figure may be much higher.

HIV is generally transmitted through the exchange of body fluids. According to various studies, drug users who share needles are among groups with highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Indonesia.

The study had also found that many children of local women married to foreign fishermen were HIV positive, KPI Maluku secretary Andi Wattimena said.

Early this year, the ILO and KPI established a special clinic in Tual to treat people living with HIV/AIDS and to provide a voluntary consultation service to help detect HIV/AIDS and control its spread.

On the financial losses, Hanafi said the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry had stopped issuing permits to foreign fishing vessels, but thousands were still freely operating.

The modern vessels were equipped with remote sensing technology to detect fish and deployed sophisticated nets to catch all kinds of fish, including smaller ones, Andi said.

"The foreign fishing vessels, which are mostly from Thailand, the Philippines and South Korea, usually carry Indonesian flags and employ Thais and Burmese crew. Many Navy and ministry ships regularly patrol the waters - not to catch illegal fishing vessels but to extort money from them," he said.

Andi said often Burmese seamen had taken refuge in Thailand after fleeing their troubled country, and after gaining employment had declined to return home, instead marrying Indonesian women.

"A similar condition is also found in Merauke with Thai and Burmese fishermen. They marry local women."

Besides limiting the number of foreign fishing vessels, the government also should stop them from carrying foreign crews who robbed Indonesians of jobs, he said.

The foreign ships cost Indonesia at least US$2 million annually in terms of fish, and caused incalculable damage in terms of facilitating the spread of HIV/AIDS in the region, he said.