Fri, 05 Sep 2003

'Navy needs hundreds more boats'

Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Navy chief of staff Adm. Bernard Kent Sondakh defended on Thursday the purchase of patrol boats by some provinces as the country needed 200 more boats to guard its vast sea territory while the central government only has a limited budget.

Bernard said Indonesia, as an archipelagic country, ideally should operate at least 380 patrol boats to cover thousands of square kilometers stretching from Aceh to Papua.

He dismissed allegations that the cooperation between the Navy and the provincial governments would violate any law related to regional autonomy, and therefore does not need approval from the Ministry of Home Affairs.

"I clearly understand that the Navy cannot ask local administrations to buy a warship. But with such cooperation with local administrations to procure patrol boats, we emphasize that the Navy will control the use of the boats as well as their weaponry," Bernard stated during a press conference.

Article 10 of the Law No. 22/1999 on regional government says local administrations have the responsibility of maintaining natural resources and providing support for security measures and state sovereignty in their respective jurisdiction.

"Of course the weaponry for the patrol boats will comply with standard requirements. I'm not going to load them with missiles, because they are not warships," Bernard said.

He was referring to the recent agreement signed by the Navy's Western Fleet and Riau administration on the purchase of Rp 12.8 billion worth of a patrol boats recently.

The boats were produced by PT Pelindo in Tanjung Pinang, Riau.

Bangka Belitung province has announced it would follow suit, with West Nusa Tenggara and Gorontalo next in line, according to Bernard.

The Navy has come under fire and been put under scrutiny by the home and defense ministries for allegedly violating Article 7 of the Law No. 22/1999 which stipulates that security affairs are solely the responsibility of the central government. Regional governments have to channel their money to the military through the central government.

TNI chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto said during a hearing with the House of Representatives on Wednesday that he had already urged local administrations to purchase patrol boats in a bid to support the Navy's job to safeguard the country's waters where fish poaching and timber and people-smuggling are rampant.

Fish poaching alone has cost the country up to US$3 billion a day.

According to Bernard, the Navy could only purchase four patrol boats a year if it depended solely on the state budget.

"Surely it will not meet the country's goal of combating various threats in our waters," he said.

Of the 117 ships in the Navy armada, two are submarines, 14 are warships, 57 are patrol boats and the remaining 44 are support vessels, including tankers and carriers. Only 30 percent of the ships, however, are still seaworthy, according to the government.

Bernard said the patrol boats provided by provincial governments will be registered as Navy property to enable them to operate.

The admiral also disclosed that the Navy had struck a deal with South Korea on the purchase of a $35 million Personnel Landing Dock that will be provided with medical facilities. The vessel is scheduled to arrive in Surabaya on Sept. 17.

He said the Navy also plans to purchase four corvettes from the Netherlands over two years, two of them will be assembled at state ship builder PT PAL in Surabaya.