Tue, 28 Jan 2003

Maritime borders neglected

Having gone through the ordeal caused by the dishonorable loss of Sipadan and Ligitan, the learned society of scholars and former competent government officials in the field of maritime affairs did the right thing by convening a panel discussion on the subject of maritime borders with neighboring countries in Jakarta on Jan. 16 (The Jakarta Post, Jan. 17 and Jan. 20).

During the discussion, incredible data was disclosed that out of a total of 17,508 islands, only 5,707 had names, while 11,801 had been left unnamed.

The question of giving names to the islands is necessary to identify the country's small islands bordering the maritime territory of neighboring countries.

More prominent data coming from the discussion divulged the fact that the country does not yet have an up-to-date comprehensive map of its maritime borders, although government regulation No. 38/2002 is in force and has set down 183 base points as references in determining the borders of the Indonesian seas. Some 27 base points are reportedly missing in the said regulation (the Post, Jan. 20).

The crucial aspect of the map in this respect lies in its function of confirming, inter alia, the base points, points of sea territory, continental coastline and EEZ, which are to be submitted to the UN Secretary-General in New York. This is necessary for attaining international recognition of the Indonesian maritime borders in international law.

Ominous repercussions to the effect that a number of 87 small islands sharing maritime borders with neighboring countries are susceptible to engendering border disputes, was pointed out in a warning from the Navy chief of staff, Admiral Bernard Kent Sondakh.

In terms of priority, the Navy chief of staff, in a call for the government's quick attention, singled out 11 islands out of which five islands were specifically mentioned by name. They are: Patek island, bordering on East Timor; Miangas, bordering on Mindanao, the Philippines; Mapia, bordering on Papua; Pasir Laut island, borders on Australia; and Nipah island, bordering on Singapore. See Kompas, Jan. 18.

Naturally, the above account represents just the tip of the iceberg of the problem surrounding Indonesia's maritime borders. This is an opportune time for the government and the House of Representatives' Commission I to pay heed to the Navy chief's appeal and exercise vigilance so as to ward off a recurrence of the disgraceful tragedy of losing more islands. A pledge in that respect to the founding fathers and the future generations is in order.

S. SUHAEDI, Jakarta