The old saying is true — time flies. The year 2010 will end in a few days. Many things have happened in the last year, and this is a good time to look back. This note focuses on maritime boundary issues in 2010, based on which Indonesia can prepare its maritime boundary policies and activities in the future.
The year 2010 did not seem to be as “busy” as 2009 in terms of maritime boundary issues. Unlike 2009, when Indonesia managed to agree upon a maritime boundary segment with Singapore, no agreements were made in 2010. However, the latest agreement with Singapore was successfully ratified in May 2010 so that it is now final and binding for Indonesia.
The agreement strengthens the Indonesia-Singapore relationship, particularly when it comes to the utilization of the Singapore Strait. With regard to technical aspects, the new maritime boundary segment was established with specific geodetic datum so that the actual location of the boundary line can be identified using popular navigation tools such as Global Positioning System (GPS). This will in turn facilitate law enforcement, especially with regards to border crossings in such a busy maritime area as the Singapore Strait.
The most attention-grabbing maritime issue was the Tanjung Berakit incidents that took place in August 2010. The incidents involved Indonesian officials, Malaysian fishermen and Malaysian Marine Police.
Seven Malaysian fishermen were taken into custody for allegedly fishing illegally in Indonesian waters.
This was followed by the detention of three Indonesian officials by Malaysian Marine Police officers. As anticipated, the issue became a long and heated debate, especially in Indonesia.
This was not the first border incident between Indonesia and Malaysia and, as some opined, may not be the last. Pending maritime boundaries in the Singapore Strait between Indonesia and Malaysia seemed to be the main reason behind the incidents.
Indonesia and Malaysia, together with Singapore, have yet to finalize the delimitation of maritime boundaries in the area between Malaysia’s Johor and Indonesia’s Pulau Bintan and Batam. The incidents, like other border incidents, once again underscored the importance of settled boundaries, because disputed maritime boundaries clearly can lead to serious tensions between neighboring states.
“Large maritime areas with abundant resources could be meaningless without the ability to protect, conserve and utilize resources.”
The long-standing sovereignty dispute between Malaysia and Singapore regarding three small geographical features — Pedra Branca (Batu Puteh), Middle Rock and South Ledge — seemed to be the main obstacle preventing the three neighboring states from finalizing their maritime borders in the area.
Now that the dispute has been partially settled, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore have intensified negotiations on maritime delimitation in the area.
Of 10 neighbors, Indonesia has partially settled maritime boundaries with seven nations and has not yet established any maritime boundaries with the Philippines, Palau and Timor Leste. Similarly, settling maritime boundaries with neighbors in many other locations should be prioritized.
This should be treated as a matter of urgency for Indonesia, which has more than 20 boundary segments to be delimited covering territorial seas, exclusive economic zones and continental shelf in around 15 different locations (Oegroseno, 2009).
While Indonesia often faces uneasy maritime border issues as a consequence of pending maritime boundaries with its neighbors, the country managed to administer good news regarding seabed boundaries beyond 200 nautical miles from baselines (also known as extended continental shelf, ECS).
Indonesia received a recommendation from the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) regarding its ECS in the area to the west of Sumatra.
Indonesia submitted data and information regarding the outer limits of its ECS in 2008 and has now been recommended by CLCS. With this recommendation, Indonesia confirmed “additional” seabed area approximately the size of Madura (around 4,000 square kilometers). When Indonesia’s outer limits of continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles from baselines are established based on the recommendation, they are final and binding.
One may ask: What is the “extension” for? The size might not be enormous, but the possibilities that lay beneath the seabed may be countless. This may still be a mystery today, but we never know what can be cultivated from the “additional” seabed area in the future. To discover resources from the seabed, scientific marine research is inevitable. This research has to be listed as one of the top priorities, with close collaboration among academia, industry and government.
With regard to ECS, Indonesia is currently preparing for two more submissions for continental shelf areas to the south of Nusa Tenggara and north of Papua.
Should Indonesia be entitled to ECS north of Papua, it may share seabed area with one more nation: the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), in addition to 10 other neighbors.
Accordingly, Indonesia may then have 11 neighbors, instead of 10, with which maritime boundaries need to be settled. In this regards, a lot more homework needs to be done.
The establishment of the National Agency for Border Management (BNPP) is a new Indonesian government approach to border management. It is worth noting that agreed border lines are not the end of the story. Border administration is essential to ensure that borders are there for the good of people living along both sides of the borders.
This is what the BNPP was established for and why there are considerably large hopes put upon it. BNPP would ideally play a role at a coordinating and policy-making levels while allowing other existing relevant bodies to take care of activity execution.
Eventually, securing large maritime areas with abundant resources could be meaningless without the ability to protect, conserve and utilize resources in a sustainable manner. This is an important homework for Indonesia to address in the coming years. Let us hope to see better management of maritime boundary issues in 2011 and the years to come.
The writer is a lecturer in the Department of Geodetic Engineering, Gadjah Mada University, with research interests in technical aspects of the laws of the sea. These are his personal opinions.
Opini The Jakarta Pos 31 Desember 2010