Indonesian Coast Guard is dead, says think tank

By Siswanto Rusdi, director of National Maritime Institute (NAMARIN), an independent think tank in Jakarta, Indonesia.

After two years of preparations, the Indonesian government finally enacted a regulation, Peraturan Pemerintah (PP) No. 13/2022 on the Governance of Maritime Security, Safety and Law Enforcement at Indonesia’s Territorial Water and Jurisdiction, to designate the Indonesia Maritime Security Board (Bakamla) as coordinating body for all existing maritime institutions that have the authority to establish order at sea.

In the past, the role of Bakamla is not clearly understood by other fellow maritime law enforcement agencies, let alone the public. 

This was the second ruling the government ever issued for Bakamla since its establishment in 2014.  The first ruling was the Presidential Regulation (Perpres) No. 178/2014. Bakamla is established by the enactment of Law No. 32/2014 that was approved by parliament during former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono administration.

With the new regulation, Bakamla is mandated by the PP to establish, among others, a national plan for maritime security, safety and law enforcement, and to devise a national maritime security index.

Although this new mandate is commendable, however, it is not what Bakamla is intended for originally.  When swearing in Vice Admiral Aan Kurnia as the head Bakamla in 2020, President Joko Widodo expected the board to be a national coast guard. In 2014, Widodo also told a gathering in Kalimantan the same thing a couple of months after he officially inaugurated Bakamla.  

Before the PP came into force this year, there was a series of action to try to elevate Bakamla to the status of a full-fledge national coast guard.  For example, in 2020, when parliament deliberated on the omnibus law bill to create more jobs (Law No. 11/2020), coordinating minister of politics, legal and security, Mahfud MD, and coordinating minister of maritime affairs and investment, Luhut B. Pandjaitan, repeatedly stated that the government would also submit the same kind of law on maritime security.

The government had also drafted a bill of maritime security and sent it to parliament in light of the current geopolitical tension as Indonesia was facing China’s aggressiveness at North Natuna Sea.  The draft was put on fast track but unfortunately it was rejected.

Mahfud and Luhut then talked about a new legal back-up for Bakamla.  However, this plan faced opposition from other maritime agencies, including the Marine Police and KPLP, the “coast guard” unit under the Ministry of Transport, because of the fear that their assets will be transferred to Bakamla.

The new ruling provides Bakamla the authority to launch its own patrol. Bakamla has its own patrol boats, bases and command centers, and currently manages three maritime zones with headquarters in Ambon and Manado of North Sulawesi province. 

These headquarters are supported by 20 bases, both stationary and mobile, which are spread across the archipelago. All of the facilities are equipped with vessel tracking systems like AIS, and electronic devices to receive distress signal through the global maritime distress safety system (GMDSS).  Bakamla’s biggest vessel, the KN Tanjung Datu 1101, based in Batam, Riau Island province, is often used in joint maritime exercises with other countries’ coast guards.  

Bakamla operates two satellite ground stations in Bangka Belitung and Bitung (North Sulawesi province) for maritime aerial surveillance. There are plans to develop several similar facilities in other regions but were stopped because of corruption.

The U.S. is currently developing a maritime campus in Batam Island as part of a US$3.5 million aid for Bakamla. It will be furnished with classrooms, barracks and launching pad to train personnel on administrative matters. A similar training center will be constructed in Bali for international partners. 

According to the new PP No. 13/2022, while Bakamla can conduct joint patrol and has to be responsible for the budget, it is noted that Bakamla is underfinanced.  The new ruling does not give Bakamla the power to stop other maritime agencies from doing their job, and there is no mention to dismantle the Marine Police, KPLP and Customs and Fisheries, as previously feared.

It is interesting to note the new ruling does not contain the word “coast guard” and Bakamla is merely referred to as the “Board”, although Bakamla has always referred to itself as Indonesian Coast Guard, through its insignia on uniforms and assets.  Therefore, it can be inferred, to both local and international audiences, that the idea of a national coast guard in Indonesia is dead.

Photo credit: iStock/ Ismed Syahrul

Siswanto Rusdi.
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