Pope Francis has expressed support for Indonesia's controversial fight against illegal fishing during a meeting with the Southeast Asian country's Maritime and Fisheries minister at the Vatican. Susi Pudjiastuti, who met the pope on Dec. 12, has caused controversy for her no-nonsense approach to dealing with illegal fishing, which she says has seriously depleted fish stocks and damaged maritime ecological systems. As part of her campaign she has ordered Indonesian security forces to blow up and sink hundreds of fishing vessels, both local and foreign, caught fishing illegally in Indonesian waters. At least 448 ships have been sunk since she took office in October, 2014. Some 125 mostly foreign vessels were destroyed in August
alone in 11 locations across Indonesia. The papal Nuncio to Indonesia, Archbishop Piero Pioppo, invited the minister to the Vatican in October while he was attending an Our Ocean Conference (OOC) in Bali. The conference focused on developing ways to maintain the sustainability of oceans. Pudjiastuti said Pope Francis asked her to continue what she was doing and offered to pray for her to succeed in her struggle. The Vatican also agreed to back Indonesia on marine environmental issues at the United Nations. "I am very happy because we have a new friend to support this cause," she said, adding that she also invited the pope to visit Indonesia. After meeting Pope Francis, Pudjiastuti held talks with Vatican Foreign Minister Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher
for 30 minutes to discuss efforts to stamp out illegal fishing and "slavery" in the industry. Pope Francis has often voiced concerns over environmental issues, including maritime ones, and called on mankind to act concretely to save the earth through his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si'
. Franciscan Father Peter Aman, director of Indonesia's Franciscan Justice Peace Integrity and Creation panel, said the pope invited the minister to the Vatican because what she has done is in accordance with his encyclical. "It was moral support for her to carry on with what she is doing," he said.