Fri, 23 Feb 2001

No civilians in submarines, please!

The ramming, accidentally, of a Japanese fishing trawler in the waters off Hawaii recently, has been widely reported by the media. Nine members of the fishing trawler's crew have still not been accounted for.

There are a number of reasons why Indonesian vessels, including fishing boats, should be extra careful following that accident.

From the security point of view, the U.S. is sending more patrol ships into the world's oceans and for intelligence gathering, submarines are most suitable. They can suddenly surface in enemy waters almost undetected. The danger posed by these prowling submarines is that they can accidentally ram an innocent fishing vessel.

The Indonesian ministry in charge of exploiting marine resources has encouraged fishermen to venture further into the open sea to catch more fish still within the boundaries of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). So there are now more ships going into the oceans on a mission sanctioned by the ministry. Though it is not very likely, these ships may sail off course in bad weather, to avoid high sees or due to other natural causes.

American warships are constantly patrolling the world's oceans because Americans feel it is their responsibility to do so, being the sheriff of the world, as we know. Americans are very accurate when carrying out a military mission. However, when they allow civilians to board their submarines for a "joy ride" things may go wrong.

In the case of the Hawaii accident, rumors have circulated that civilians were in the submarine and one of them had actually activated the control which makes the submarine surface. To look around in the middle of the ocean from a periscope to see if the area is free from obstacles is, apparently, not enough. Ideally, the submarine should have been equipped with a siren or sonic equipment that emits a warning to nearby ships.

Fishing boats of all sorts, encouraged by the ministry for the exploration and exploitation of marine resources and coastal life are now being seen in greater number in the waters near and inside the archipelago. It may happen that submarines on patrol will accidentally ram Indonesian fishing trawlers.

For the superpowers, the exclusive economic zones do not apply to warships. So some may venture out into, for instance, the straits of Bali, or Lombok.

Australian submarines are known for their prowling activities in waters around Irian Jaya, the Timor Sea or along the straits of Nias Island. After all, the Australians' official defense thinking has determined that danger is coming from the north.

It is therefore recommended that Indonesian vessels, and in particular its smaller fishing ships, be painted with glaring colors to make them more distinct for the submarines and other "wild sharks" to detect.