US, Indonesia Building Maritime Training Center on Batam

Ronna Nirmala
US, Indonesia Building Maritime Training Center on Batam Indonesian Coast Guard members detain a Vietnamese fishing boat near the Natuna islands, July 26, 2020.
Indonesian Coast Guard handout/AFP

The United States and Indonesia are building a U.S. $3.5 million coast guard training center on Batam, an industrial and transport hub at the south end of the South China Sea, to boost Jakarta’s capacity to fight domestic and transnational crime, authorities said.

Representatives of Indonesia’s Coast Guard (Bakamla) and the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta were present at the groundbreaking ceremony at the Batam Navy Base on Friday. The U.S. ambassador and Indonesian Coast Guard chief attended virtually.

“[T]he United States remains committed to supporting Indonesia’s leading role in advancing regional peace and security by countering domestic and transnational crime,” U.S. Ambassador Sung Kim was quoted as saying in a joint statement about the event.

Vice Adm. Aan Kurnia, the Bakamla chief, said construction of the training center would be completed next year, and after that, it would be owned and operated entirely by his institution.

“No U.S troops will be stationed there,” Aan said.

He said there was no specific reason behind the location of the new facility, when asked if it was part of efforts to strengthen Indonesia’s maritime presence amid incursions by Chinese fishing and coast guard vessels in nearby waters.

“Everything is still in the corridor of the principle of a free and active foreign policy,” Aan told BenarNews. “We, as a new institution, are still limited in capacity, so there needs innovation to improve human resource capabilities.”

Batam, the capital of Riau Islands province, lies just 32 km (20 miles) south of Singapore, near the border of disputed waters between China and several Southeast Asian countries.

The training center is a collaborative effort between Bakamla, which was established in 2014; the U.S. Coast Guard; the U.S. State Department’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement office; and the U.S. Department of Defense.

Disputed waters

Bakamla has intensified sea patrols in recent years after Chinese fishing boats escorted by China Coast Guard ships sailed into Jakarta’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) off the Natuna islands, Indonesia’s name for its waters at the southern end of the South China Sea.

It also seized dozens of Vietnamese fishing boats trespassing in Indonesian waters. In early 2021, Bakamla apprehended two tankers in the Java Sea carrying out an unauthorized oil transfer from an Iran-flagged tanker to a Panama-flagged one, in violation of international law.

Adding to tensions in the congested waterways, Beijing has authorized China Coast Guard ships to use weapons against any vessels found in waters that Beijing claims as its territory.

Indonesia does not regard itself as a party to territorial disputes over the South China Sea, but Beijing claims historic rights to parts of the maritime region that overlap Indonesia’s EEZ.

A clear signal

The U.S. previously helped Indonesia build a maritime training center at the Ambon Navy Base in the eastern province of Maluku in 2018.

The new facility will accommodate up to 50 trainees and 12 instructors, and include classrooms, offices, a kitchen and dining area, barracks, and a vessel launch ramp, the statement said.

Aristyo Rizka Darmawan, a senior researcher at the Center for Sustainable Ocean Policy at the University of Indonesia, described the new facility as an exciting development for Indonesia-U.S. relations, at a time when Jakarta has been involved more with China.

“This is a positive development for both countries, [while] also very beneficial for Indonesia to confirm its symbol of presence in the North Natuna Sea,” Aristyo told BenarNews.

He said the cooperation also showed Indonesia’s efforts to balance its position amidst a rivalry between the two superpowers.

“Indonesia is showing its neutrality from the cooperation, as the Southeast Asian country also takes advantage of its relationship with China, which will contribute to stability in the region,” he added.

Aristyo said this initiative by the U.S. would also extend Washington’s presence in the region in a way that is acceptable to the Indonesian public.

“But geopolitically, this is a clear signal for the U.S. to confront China’s presence in the region, especially after the salvage operation of the KRI Nanggala-402 with the help of Chinese naval ships.”

Indonesia recently accepted help from three Chinese naval ships in its ultimately fruitless operation to salvage a submarine that sank north of Bali in April with 53 sailors on board.

Ships and aircraft from Australia, India, Malaysia, Singapore and the United States were involved in earlier search efforts for the sub, which sank during a torpedo-firing exercise.


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