A new maritime information center under Indonesia’s coast guard is expected to improve and speed up coordination in fighting smuggling, illegal fishing and other crimes at sea, officials said Thursday.
The Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla) launched the Indonesian Maritime Information Center (IMIC) on Wednesday as part of efforts to support law enforcement at sea through exchanges of information, said Vice Adm. Aan Kurnia, the coast guard’s chief.
“Indonesia’s maritime information system has been inadequate,” Aan told BenarNews. “At IMIC, all information on incidents such as accidents, smuggling, fish theft will be available … so coordination on the ground can be improved.”
The center will issue weekly, monthly and annual reports and other publications for public use, he said.
The center will also complement international maritime agencies operating in neighboring countries, such as the Information Fusion Center (IFC) in Singapore and the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in Malaysia, Aan added.
The opening of IMIC comes six months after Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto, the head of Indonesia’s armed forces, launched the military’s Maritime Information Center (Pusinfomar).
Hadi said Pusinomar was established to back the military in safeguarding the country’s territorial waters and work with other government agencies in addressing maritime issues.
Aan said the IMIC would not overlap with the military’s maritime center.
“The division is clear, the Navy is in the realm of defense, while Bakamla is tasked with maintaining security. We work hand-in-hand with good coordination,” he said.
The new information center should allow security authorities to respond quickly to reports on incidents at sea, according to Siswanto Rusdi, director of the National Maritime Institute (Namarin).
Rusdi said people working at sea had been more comfortable providing incident reports to international institutions such as the IFC in Singapore or IMB in Malaysia.
“The reason is they respond quickly. Here, if a crew reports a piracy, their ship can be held for months. It’s a hassle,” Rusdi told BenarNews on Thursday.
There were 13 attempted or actual incidents of piracy and armed robbery within Indonesia’s waters from January to June this year – nearly a two-fold increase in such incidents since the same time last year – according to the ReCAAP Information Sharing Center, based in Singapore. Overall, a similar trend was observed across Southeast Asia during the same period, according to information from the center.
Bakamla’s chief, Vice Adm. Aan, has expressed frustration with how regional information centers like ReCAAP and the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) produce their data on maritime crime. He described their information about incidents in Indonesia as “disproportionate.”
“A lot of information is in fact only a case of petty theft on a ship, but it was reported as if there had been a piracy,” Aan said during a July 15 meeting with Indonesia’s security minister.
According to the coast guard chief, this is partly why the IMIC was brought online at this time.
Victims of crimes at sea often do not know where to report because there are too many institutions tasked with security in Indonesian waters, said Mohammad Abdi Suhufan, the coordinator of Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) Indonesia, a local NGO.
“There should be a mechanism that allows authorities to respond quickly and conduct an intercept if there are reports of human trafficking in Indonesian waters,” he told BenarNews.
DFW Indonesia works to defend the rights of workers at sea and operates 24-hour hotlines called Fisher Centers. The NGO has been providing information about the deaths of at least eight Indonesian sailors on Chinese fishing boats since late last year.
In the latest case, Indonesian police have charged the supervisor of a Chinese fishing boat over the death of an Indonesian crew member whose corpse was discovered earlier this month.
Cooperation with Malaysia, Philippines
Meanwhile, Bakamla and its counterpart agency in Malaysia – the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) – agreed during an online meeting earlier this week to strengthen law enforcement cooperation in their respective territorial waters.
“We talked about joint patrols in border areas with Malaysia,” Aan said.
“If any Malaysian fishing vessels are caught in Indonesia, they will contact us for a settlement,” Aan told BenarNews.
Aan said he would also hold a virtual meeting with officials in the Philippines in the near future to discuss trilateral patrol arrangements.
“We want to strengthen the synergy through trilateral patrols to tackle human smuggling and illegal fishing” he said.
In June 2017, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines launched trilateral maritime patrols following a spate of kidnappings carried out in waters bordering the three countries that were largely blamed on Abu Sayyaf, a militant group based in the southern Philippines.
Maj. Arvin Encinas, spokesman for the Philippine military’s Western Mindanao Command, said in January that kidnappings in Malaysian waters bordering Indonesia and the Philippines were still happening despite the joint patrols.
Although the patrols had some effect in reducing lawlessness along the sea boundaries between the three countries, pirates and militants were still operating in the vast maritime region, Encinas told BenarNews at the time.
Agency faces challenges
Indonesia formed Bakamla in 2014 in an effort to merge myriad maritime law enforcement agencies into one coordinating body responsible for combatting illegal fishing, territorial violations, smuggling, crime, and for search-and-rescue missions. However, it faces steep challenges in managing Indonesia’s vast territory.
Most of Bakamla’s personnel are drawn from the Indonesian Navy, and the agency relies on the military’s radar coverage and intelligence, said Gilang Kembara, a researcher at the Jakarta-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
“In short, Bakamla’s biggest challenge is still assets and manpower. It will be years until they’re able to independently establish dedicated facilities that span throughout the archipelago,” he told BenarNews.