U.S., Indonesia building maritime training base in Batam
The United States and Indonesia are building a U.S. $3.5 million coast guard training center in Batam, an industrial and transport hub at the southern end of the South China Sea, to boost Jakarta’s capacity to fight domestic and transnational crime, authorities said.
Representatives of Indonesia’s Maritime Security Agency and Coast Guard, known as Bakamla, and the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta attended the June 25, 2021, groundbreaking ceremony at the Batam Navy Base.
The U.S. “remains committed to supporting Indonesia’s leading role in advancing regional peace and security by countering domestic and transnational crime,” U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Sung Kim, who attended the event virtually, said in a statement.
Vice Adm. Aan Kurnia, the Bakamla chief, said construction of the training center would be completed in 2022 and that the facilty would be owned and operated entirely by his institution.
“No U.S. troops will be stationed there,” said Aan, who also attended virtually. “We, as a new institution, are still limited in capacity, so there needs to be innovation to improve human resource capabilities.”
Batam, the capital of Riau Islands province, lies just 32 kilometers south of Singapore, near waters over which China and several Southeast Asian countries have territorial disputes.
The training center is a collaborative effort by Bakamla, which was established in 2014, the U.S. Coast Guard; the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs and the U.S. Department of Defense. (Pictured: Indonesian Coast Guard vessel KN Tan Jung Datu, left, sails alongside United States Coast Guard Cutter Stratton in the Singapore Strait in August 2019.)
Bakamla has intensified sea patrols in recent years after Chinese fishing boats escorted by Chinese coast guard ships sailed into Jakarta’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off the Natuna Islands at the southern end of the South China Sea. It has also seized dozens of Vietnamese fishing boats accused of trespassing in Indonesian waters. In early 2021, Bakamla apprehended two tankers, one Iranian-flagged and one Panamanian-flagged, carrying out an illegal oil transfer in the Java Sea.
Adding to tensions in the congested waterways, Beijing recently authorized its coast guard ships to use weapons against any vessels found in Chinese-claimed waters. China claims much of the South China Sea under its so-called nine-dash line, an arbitrary demarcation that an international tribunal rejected in 2016 as unlawful.
Indonesia does not regard itself as a party to territorial disputes over the South China Sea, although Beijing claims historic rights to parts of the maritime region that overlap Indonesia’s EEZ.
The U.S. also 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.
“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,” said Aristyo Rizka Darmawan, a senior researcher at the Center for Sustainable Ocean Policy at the University of Indonesia.
He said the cooperation also showed Indonesia’s efforts to balance its position amid the U.S.-China rivalry. “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.”
Aristyo said the initiative 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,” he said.
Indonesia accepted assistance from three Chinese naval ships in its ultimately unsuccessful operation to salvage a submarine that sank north of Bali in April 2021 with 53 Sailors on board.
Ships and aircraft from Australia, India, Malaysia, Singapore and the U.S. were involved in earlier search efforts for the Indonesian sub, which sank during a torpedo-firing exercise.
IMAGE CREDIT: PETTY OFFICER 1ST CLASS LEVI READ/U.S. COAST GUARD