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ASEAN Coast Guard Forum strengthens cooperation to combat maritime threats

Gusty Da Costa

Coast guards from Southeast Asian nations are striving to enhance cooperation and communication to counter maritime threats such as illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and human trafficking.

Patrolling the South China Sea area and protecting Rohingya refugees are also priorities for coast guards of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states, according to regional leaders who spoke at the second annual ASEAN Coast Guard Forum (ACF) in Jakarta, Indonesia, from June 6-9, 2023.

“The establishment of the ACF aims to create an exclusive dialogue mechanism to foster ASEAN’s centrality towards maritime security in the region. This effort is welcomed and supported by the leaders of ASEAN countries,” Rear Adm. Aan Kurnia, head of Indonesia’s Maritime Security Agency, known as Bakamla, said in his opening remarks.

Representatives of the coast guards of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand attended the meeting.

“Through info sharing, we build real-time maritime situational awareness so that we can get a clear picture and understanding about the potential and factual threats and shorten the relay and response time in dealing with them,” Bakamla spokesman Col. Wisnu Pramandita told FORUM.

Enhanced information sharing and coordination are critical for addressing IUU fishing, a major maritime threat facing ASEAN states, Jakarta-based maritime expert Marcellus Hakeng Jayawibawa told FORUM.

IUU fishing operations have become increasingly sophisticated, he explained. Many illegal fishers can monitor coast guard patrols and move fishing vessels to unpatrolled areas, even into waters belonging to neighboring Southeast Asian countries, to avoid detection.

“Because individual states face a lack of manpower to watch over their maritime territories, cooperation with other countries can enable a vast patrol area,” he said. “Through cooperation, we [Indonesia] can give comprehensive reports, and they [other ASEAN nations] can do the same to jointly prevent illegal fishing activities.”

The ACF featured a table-top exercise, cooperation agreement signings and an announcement of cooperation between Indonesia and Malaysia to assist Rohingya refugees fleeing hazardous conditions in Myanmar.

The Rohingya refugees are a shared concern of Indonesia and Malaysia, Kurnia said. Bakamla monitors the issue and coordinates with its counterpart, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (APMM), he added.

From November 2022 to February 2023, six ships carrying 644 Rohingya refugees strayed into Indonesian waters, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

“I am certain that good relations between Indonesia’s Bakamla and Malaysia’s APMM can ensure that this issue will be able to be resolved together, God willing,” said Vice Adm. Datuk Saiful Lizan bin Ibrahim, acting director general of the APMM.

The inaugural ACF was held in Bali, Indonesia, in November 2022. The next ACF will be held in the Philippines in 2024, with Thailand serving as host in 2025.

The 2023 forum established the ACF as an annual event and defined ACF working group tasks to include sharing skills and experience; identifying regional cooperation; discussing threats and solutions; participating in activities/seminars related to the development of the ACF work program; and identifying areas of capacity building.

Gusty Da Costa is a FORUM contributor reporting from Indonesia.

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