Tag Archives: Indonesia

Trilateral Maritime Patrols in the Sulu Sea: Asymmetry in Need, Capability, and Political Will

By Zachary Abuza, Ph.D.

A spate of shipjackings and kidnapping-for-ransoms has imperiled regional trade in Southeast Asia and prompted calls for trilateral maritime policing in the waters between the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Though an important first step, this will not end the kidnappings or lead to an overall improved security situation.  

The Context

Starting on 26 March 2016, militants from the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) began a spate of maritime kidnappings. Three Indonesian vessels and a Malaysian tugboat were hijacked, and some 18 sailors were taken hostage. 

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A screen capture from Abu Sayyaf’s fifth video of Norwegian, Kjartan Sekkingstad (l), and Canadian, Robert Hall (r), released on 14 May 2016.

Their treatment was very different than the three Western hostages abducted from a Davao resort in September 2015. The two Canadians, Norwegian, and Filipina were held incommunicado for a period of time, with six videos demanding ransoms issued over seven months. The hostages were filmed in all but one video in front of the black flag of the Islamic State, and in the last two wearing orange T-Shirts, representing the ubiquitous orange jumpsuit of Islamic State (IS) prisoners. The two Canadian hostages were executed when their ransom deadline, already extended and reduced, were not paid, on 25 April and 13 June. On 24 June, the ASG released the Filipina hostage as an “act of good will,” though, at the time of this writing they still hold the Norwegian prisoner.

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Photograph of the four Malaysian sailors, released via Facebook, on 15 April 2016.

The Malaysian and Indonesian sailors, by contrast, were quickly put in contact with their families and companies to arrange ransom payments. Although the ASG threatened to behead the four Malaysian sailors if no ransom was paid, there was no IS imagery in the photo posted on Facebook in the proof of life picture that the ASG released. In all three cases, ransoms were paid and the suspects released. Various press reports indicate that the four Malaysians were released with the payment of 140 million pesos ($2.97 million), while ten Indonesians were released following a 50 million pesos ($1.06 million) ransom, and the final four released with a 15 million pesos ($319,000) ransom. The payment of ransoms was always officially denied. While governments may have not paid the ransom, family members, shipping firms, friends, and insurance companies appear to have come up with the requisite funds. Malaysian Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi acknowledged that money changed hands, but “channeled not as ransom, but to a body in the Philippines which assists in an Islamic struggle.” There is no ideology here, this is abject criminality.

Not surprisingly, with the payment of large ransoms, shipjackings/kidnappings have continued. On 20 June another Indonesian tugboat was boarded and seven of its thirteen crew members taken hostage. Though the remaining six were able to steer the ship to a safe port, the ASG is demanding $4.8 million in ransom for the release of the seven. Within days of the hijacking the captain was able to call his wife and convey the ransom demand.

The Costs

These shipjackings/maritime kidnappings imperil regional trade. While only a small amount of the $40 billion in regional maritime trade passes through these waters, it is not insignificant. Indonesian coal exports from East Kalimantan account for 70 percent of  total Philippine coal imports, worth over $800 million. There are an estimated 55 million metric tons of goods that transit these waters annually. These exports are all the more important as Chinese imports of raw materials from Southeast Asia continue to fall with China’s economic slowdown. On 21 April 2016, Indonesian authorities temporarily  blocked ships from sailing to the Philippines, warning that the waters were becoming the “New Somalia.” The small shipping companies run on thin margins, and the millions of dollars in ransoms pose a threat to the small-vessel maritime shipping that dominates the region. Following the 20 June kidnapping, the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Retno Marsudi, announced a ban on licenses to ship coal to the Philippines from Indonesian ports, “The moratorium on coal exports to the Philippines will be extended until there is a guarantee for security from the Philippines government.”

Calls for Trilateral Maritime Policing

For the first time in many years, Malaysian and Indonesian leaders have been speaking of the Southern Philippines as being the weak link in regional security and began to call for trilateral maritime policing in  waters to the north and northeast of Sabah. There was a most un-ASEAN drumbeat of threats by Indonesian civilian and military leaders to engage in unilateral military operations to rescue their sailors. On 27 April, Philippine President Aquino acquiesced to Indonesian and Malaysian calls for joint maritime patrols based on the joint operations in the Strait of Malacca. 

On 5 May, the three foreign ministers met and issued a communique “recognized the growing security challenges, such as those arising from armed robbery against ships, kidnapping, transnational crimes and terrorism in the region, particularly in reference to the maritime areas of common concern.”

  1. To conduct patrol among the three countries using existing mechanisms as a modality;
  2. To render immediate assistance for the safety of people and ships in distress within the maritime areas of common concern;
  3. To establish a national focal point among the three countries to facilitate timely sharing of information and intelligence as well as coordination in the event of emergency and security threats; and,
  4. To establish a hotline of communication among the three countries to better facilitate coordination during emergency situations and security threats.
  5. They instruct the relevant agencies of the three countries to meet as soon as possible and subsequently convene on a regular basis to implement and periodically review the above-mentioned measures and also to formulate the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP).

With the agreement in principle, the sides had to negotiate a standard operating procedure, which had to have more teeth than a poorly implemented 2002 trilateral agreement to respond to Abu Sayyaf attacks.

On 20 June, the Malaysian, Indonesian, and Philippine Defense Ministers agreed to establish transit corridors. “The ministers have agreed in principle to explore the following measures, including a transit corridor within the maritime areas of common concern, which will serve as designated sea lanes for mariners,” they said in a joint statement. In addition, they pledged to increase the number of air and sea patrols as well as maritime escorts. 

Most controversially, the draft SOP will allow for the right of hot pursuit, something that the Indonesians insisted on. The Indonesian Minister of Defense, Ryamizard Ryacudu told the media “We’ve agreed that if another hostage situation occurs, we will be allowed to enter [Philippine territory].” His Philippine counterpart, Voltaire Gazmin, who was in the last week of his job, qualified the agreement: the hijacking/kidnapping must have taken place in Indonesian waters, before Indonesian vessels could enter Philippine territory, and Philippine security forces would have to be immediately informed so that a “coordinated and joint operation could immediately be undertaken.”

Limitations

Even if the three countries implement the SOP and begin implementing trilateral policing, there would be serious limits for seven key reasons.

First, this is not the Strait of Malacca, one of the most critical maritime straits in the world. Those patrols, now in their 11th year, have been successful and resulted in a dramatic drop in piracy and shipjackings. But they have benefited from members with very robust capabilities, such as Singapore and Malaysia, a critical international chokepoint, and with  technical support from the United States, which made it clear that if the littoral states did not increase patrols it would. The Strait of Malacca has the most sophisticated network of radars and maritime domain awareness capabilities in the region.

Second, sovereignty remains the paramount concern.  No country will allow “joint” patrols in their territorial waters. They might do “coordinated patrols” in their respective national waters, but there will be no joint patrols. Each country has been adamant on this point. As the Philippines said, “’joint exercises” can only take place “in the high seas and not within [Philippine] territorial waters.” As Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi put it, any joint actions “must be agreed on without any of them sacrificing their sovereignty.”

Even the agreement on hot pursuit seems problematic. While Malaysia and Indonesian may be keen to have the right to hot pursuit into Philippine waters, it is hard to see them accepting one another exercising this right.  Second, the incoming Duterte administration has not signaled their approval of this agreement. It is possible that they do not feel bound by agreements signed by the outgoing Aquino administration.

Third, and more to the point, this really requires Indonesian leadership. As we have seen, President Widodo’s Maritime Fulcrum Strategy has been terribly implemented, and he has shown little interest in compelling his various services and ministries to come up with an integrated implementation strategy, let alone serve as a regional leader of ASEAN. The Indonesian military’s threat perception and budgetary allocation priorities have returned to an inward focus, after nearly a decade of maritime orientation.

Fourth, the capabilities of all three remain very limited. There is an asymmetry between the threat and the capabilities  deployed to this region. Even though Malaysia has beefed up maritime policing off of Sabah, especially following the incursion by Sultan of Sulu-backed gunmen in 2013, it has not been enough to prevent the ASG from still launching kidnappings. Malaysia and Indonesia have only limited naval, coast guard, and maritime law enforcement capabilities, and this region has not been a priority. The Strait of Malacca and increasingly the South China Sea have been far greater priorities. But those limited capabilities are exactly why cooperation is so necessary.

Fifth, there are still significant suspicions between the countries and lingering border disputes. The Indonesians remain distrustful and angry towards the Malaysians over the maritime demarcation between Sabah and East Kalimantan in the Ambalat region. On 26 June, Indonesian jet fighters intercepted a Malaysian military cargo plane flying too close to Natuna Island. While Indonesia and the Philippines successfully demarcated their maritime boundary in 2014, Malaysia and the Philippines do not have a formally demarcated maritime border owing to the disputed claim over Sabah. That may possibly worsen as president elect Duterte stated that he would revive the Philippine claim to Sabah which had been dormant for number of years.

EEZ demarcation between the Philippines and Indonesia. The PH-RI EEZ Boundary is defined by geodetic lines connecting eight points. These points are indicated in geographical coordinates that form a single line as illustrated in the chart shown below. The total length of the line is 627.51 nautical miles or 1,162.2 kilometers from points 1 to 8.
EEZ demarcation between the Philippines and Indonesia. The total length of the line is 627.51 nautical miles or 1,162.2 kilometers from points 1 to 8. (Government of the Philippines/Government of Indonesia)

Sixth, one needs to study a map of the trade routes to understand that even if there is  international cooperation as well as designated corridors, they will only have a limited impact.

A majority of Abu Sayyaf operations occur in Philippine waters, and only a small portion occur in waters that may have joint patrols. If militants want to avoid Indonesians exercising their right to hot pursuit, they merely have to wait for targets to enter Philippine waters. Manila is unlikely to allow armed convoys from Malaysia or Indonesia, to continue into Philippine waters, let alone ports, even if they do not have the assets in place to receive the handoff.  The weak link remains the limited capabilities of the Philippine Navy, Coast Guard, and law enforcement authorities. What little the Philippines actually has is primarily focused on their maritime claims in the South China Sea.

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The Sulu and Celebes Seas. (Image courtesy of author)

Even if we take away the large LNG tankers and large container ships that come up through the Lombok and Makassar Straights, which then either continue on to Northeast Asia to the east of the Philippines or cut through the deep waters between the Malaysian state of Sabah and the Tawi Tawi Islands of the Philippines, there are simply too many small tugboats, small bulk cargo ships, and tramp steamers that ply those waters to protect.

Ships coming out of Balikpapan and Samarinda in East Kalimantan or Makassar and Monado on Sulawesi traveling across the Celebes Sea to General Santos or Davao in the Philippines could be better protected. Yet, ships leaving any of those four ports traveling to Cebu, Cagayan d’Oro or Manila must transit the waters around Jolo, Tawi Tawi and Basilan, the Abu Sayyaf’s heartland. Likewise, ships sailing out of Western Sabah or Sarawak states traveling to Manila, Cebu, or ports in northern Mindanao can operate at the furthest edges of Abu Sayyaf capabilities. But ships from there or from the port of Sandakan going to Zamboanga or east to General Santos or Davao must transit the pirate infested waters between Tawi Tawi and Basilan. Abu Sayaf can launch quick attacks from their hideouts along this poorly policed coastline throughout the archipelago. 

Again, the ASG can operate close to shore, in Philippine waters, without triggering the right of hot pursuit. And even if Indonesian or Malaysian forces were able to operate in hot pursuit, only on sea; they can do nothing when the Abu Sayyaf reach shore.

Finally, the lesson of Somalia is that international maritime cooperation cannot defeat piracy. Piracy is defeated on land, not sea. Despite ample support from the United States since 2002, the Armed Forces of the Philippines has proven unable and unwilling to  defeat the Abu Sayyaf group. This is a small group, geographically contained, and enjoys little popular appeal. Yet, they endure. There are simply too many vested interests in keeping the thuggish militants around. The ransoms not only go to bribing local officials, military, and law enforcement despite their vociferous denials, but local communities profit from the kidnappings as well. The proceeds have gone not just to buy new weapons and ammunition from the black market, but to support a sub-economy.

Indeed, there is growing evidence that new kidnap for ransom gangs are carrying out operations, and then selling their captives to ASG leaders such as Al Habsyi Misaya. The six Indonesian sailors who were not taken hostage on 20 June recounted that their seven colleagues were taken by two separate groups  with very different behavior and professionalism.

It is yet to be seen what approach president-elect Duterte will take. Like most issues, he has said one thing and immediately contradicted himself. He has has prided himself on the use of extra-judicial killings to eliminate Davao of crime and drugs, and said that Abu Sayyaf should be liquidated. He brashly warned the ASG that “there will be a time, there will be a reckoning,” but then said that it was not his “top priority,” and announced a willingness to negotiate with them. There is no evidence that they will accede to his demand that they “surrender unconditionally, release your prisoners, your hostages.” His messaging on the Bangsamoro peace process has likewise been contradictory, which has added to the sense of regional insecurity. 

Duterte recently warned that he would not continue the Armed Forces of the Philippines modernization program, re-orienting the security forces back to an internal security focus. The limited Philippine naval modernization program, may be very short-lived.  But then his Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana stated that the ASG was the country’s primary security threat, whose “illegal activities, including kidnapping, must stop,” Delfin warned: “We have to end this once and for all. This problem is giving us a very bad image abroad.”

In short, trilateral policing can only deliver so much until the capabilities of the Philippines improve. Delfin announced that military spending would be diverted from acquiring assets for use in the South China sea to fast patrol craft and helicopters for counter-terrorist operations. But it is hard to imagine that China will not act aggressively and start reclamation of Scarborough Shoal following an adverse ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration, set for 12 July. Perhaps they will try to leverage that for further maritime assistance from the United States and other partners such as Australia and Japan.

Tempered Expectations

The frustration on the part of the Indonesian and Malaysian governments is palpable. In addition to hurting trade, a number of land-based kidnappings in Sabah since 2013, have impacted tourism.  Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman was blunt in calling for a meeting with his new Philippine counterpart following the 30 June inauguration of President Duterte:

“We need to have this urgent meeting. I would like to stress upon the seriousness of this problem that involves Filipino nationals. We accept that it is a complex issue. The Philippines military has been going after these people with limited success. The question now is how can we work together.”

So what can we expect? There may be some coordinated patrols,but expectations about what these entail should be low. These navies and maritime law enforcement organizations do not have a great track record of working together in this area, which for all three countries has received a disproportionately low share of their respective maritime security budgets.  

That they are even discussing them and trying to come up with standard operating procedures is well and good.  But this will need to be routinized and taken to a higher level if it is to succeed. Perhaps external actors, including the United States, Australia, Japan, and even Singapore, can help  bridge some of the gaps. 

The three sides are discussing database and intelligence sharing on local extremists and militants.  There have been suggestions of establishing joint military command posts, yet undefined. But an actual fusion center as what was established in Singapore seems a long way off, and the reality is that none of the three has adequate maritime domain awareness capabilities.

With regional trade dominated by slow tugboats and tramp steamers, even groups with limited capabilities such as Abu Sayyaf can wreak havoc in the Sulu and Celebes Seas. With limited capabilities amongst the three littoral states, there is an imperative to cooperation, especially considering the importance of regional trade. Yet a history of mistrust, continued border disputes, a fixation on sovereignty, and a lack of leadership is making the necessary cooperation more difficult to achieve.

Zachary Abuza, PhD, is a Professor at the National War College where he specializes in Southeast Asian security issues. The views expressed here are his own, and not the views of the Department of Defense or National War College. Follow him on Twitter @ZachAbuza.

Featured Image: A navy cutter patrols the shores of a fishing village near the capital town of Jolo in the southern Philippine province of Sulu 30 June 2000 as an outrigger races across its path. (AFP PHOTO)

Sea Control 116 – Indonesia, A History of Violence and Horror Fiction

983650568_bfdf96be73_zIn this week’s episode of Sea Control: Asia Pacific, Natalie Sambhi chats with Nadia Bulkin, a Senior Associate at The Asia Group, on Indonesia’s history of violence, its turn towards democratic nationalism and what that means for the country today. They delve into legacies and policy implications of military rule and colonialism. Natalie and Nadia also discuss the recent confrontation between Indonesian and Chinese coast guards in the South China Sea. Lastly, they explore Nadia’s passion for writing ‘socio-political horror’ fiction and what literature and film can teach us about understanding Indonesia’s psychology.

DOWNLOAD: CIMSEC Bulkin Indonesia

Nadia Bulkin is a Senior Associate at The Asia Group where she is the defense industrial team lead. Nadia holds an M.A. in International Affairs from American University’s School of International Service and graduated summa cum laude from Barnard College with a B.A. in Political Science and a double-minor in Economics and Environmental Science. She is fluent in Indonesian. Read her fiction writing here.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Chez Julius Livre 1.

Sea Control 114 – South China Sea with CAPT James Fanell

seacontrol2For a discussion on the South China Sea, Sally DeBoer, our Book Review Editor, brings in CAPT James Fannell (USN, Ret), the former Director of Intelligence and Information Operations (N2) for the US Pacific Fleet.  During the course of his thirty year career, CAPT Fanell specialized in Indo-Asia Pacific security affairs, with an emphasis on the Chinese navy and its operations. CAPT Fanell is an experienced public speaker noted for his candor and expertise. He is currently a government fellow for the Geneva Center for Security Policy and the author of Red Star Rising.

Download this week’s episode here!

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It’s the Economy: Exploring Indonesia’s Piracy Problem

International efforts to solve piracy often focus on displays of force. Whether it is the United States-led Task Force 151 in the Gulf of Aden or international operations in the Strait of Malacca, states most often revert to military or law enforcement to end piracy.

Force is not the ultimate answer. While states should certainly keep up efforts to apprehend pirates, security threats from piracy are just a symptom. The cause is inherently an economic problem.

The current peak of piracy and maritime armed robbery off Indonesia (the former outside territorial waters, the latter within) is a prime example of the economic problems at hand. Between January and September of 2014, Indonesia experienced 72 attempted and actual incidents of piracy and armed robbery, according to the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau. [1] This figure is, far and away, the highest in the world, accounting for 40% of such incidents.

Indonesia sits at a maritime crossroads of the world, affording it considerable resources of which to take advantage. Indonesia is situated along the Strait of Malacca, a critical maritime trade route also bordered by Singapore and Malaysia. 30 percent of global maritime trade passes through the Strait, heading west into the Indian Ocean and east into the South China Sea. The Strait is critical due to the speed it provides to shippers, cutting two to three days off the next fastest route. [2]

Despite these advantages, Indonesia remains firmly among the world’s developing countries. Indonesia’s total GDP of $1.285 trillion ranks 16th in the world, but due to its population size of 254 million, that per capita purchasing power is significantly reduced at $5,200, placing it at 158th among all nations.

No matter where it takes place, piracy and armed robbery is most often undertaken by those who have not reached a post-material existence, instead taking action, regardless of legality, to obtain basic needs. For the 60 percent of Indonesians who live along the coastline, that makes piracy an attractive option in the face of limited economic opportunities.

The poor state of coastal communities leaves few major industries in which Indonesians can partake, the most prevalent being fishing. Indonesian fisheries represent a USD $4.4 billion dollar industry. However, due to weak government enforcement, the industry loses USD $8 million each year to illegal fishing. Such crimes are perpetrated both by Indonesians as a means of subsistence in a poor economic environment, as well as international fishers taking advantage of Indonesia’s poorly protected resources. The additional lost revenue for legitimate fishers adds economic distress. In tandem with poor or corrupt law enforcement, piracy and armed robbery quickly becomes an attractive option for those seeking a lifeboat.

Further, Indonesian maritime development lags, in part, due to its strategic positioning. Littoral states along well-trafficked sea lanes incur high costs for maintaining and protecting these sea lanes often without receiving reciprocal economic benefits. High costs and low benefits are especially prevalent in Indonesia, which has not been able to develop effective port infrastructure to aid its coastal development. Terminals at Indonesia’s main port in Jakarta, for instance, can only move approximately 30 containers an hour at the high cost of USD $130, putting it well below most every other major Asian port in terms of its productivity/cost-efficiency ratio. Low efficiency makes Indonesia an unattractive place for shippers to do business and hinders Indonesians from getting imports at low prices.

Accentuating the geographic predisposition towards piracy and maritime armed robbery is state weakness. Indonesia is a state defined by ethnic and linguistic divisions which, until the turn of the century, was held together by the ruthlessly autocratic rule of Suharto. In recent years, however, the state has seen a definitive move towards democracy from authoritarianism with the help of military intervention. [3] The military has also proven effective in quelling separatist movements, like the Free Aceh movement.

However, while the military has been able to accomplish much towards state stability, it has not been able to effectively patrol its own waters for piracy. Indonesia covers an area of 93,000 square kilometers of water and has a coastline of 54,176 kilometers. Despite having the largest navy of its Strait neighbors (in addition to a coast guard and a marine police) and the new administration’s promises of increased defense spending, the military simply does not have the capability to patrol the entirety of its sovereign borders. The state currently spends less than 1 percent of its GDP on security, which is insufficient for developing the rule of law and a monopoly of violence within Indonesian territory, leaving it susceptible to crime like piracy. Additionally, naval spending might be poorly directed. Many of Indonesia’s current platforms are inappropriate for successfully navigating the geographic hazards of the country’s small islands and networks of mangroves.

Indonesia’s many islands both create hot spots for piracy and make it difficult for the Indonesian military to patrol.

Economic and security weaknesses lead to a unique brand of Indonesian maritime terrorism, dissimilar to other more notorious forms across the globe. Indonesian ‘pirates’ tend to commit relatively low-grade thefts in port at night, taking personal belongings or siphoning liquid gas cargo off tankers. The latter is especially rife as 50 percent of the world’s oil supplies flow through the Strait of Malacca. Regardless of the relative petty nature of these attacks, ship owners still incur high “war-risk” insurance premiums akin to those found in true conflict zones. High costs incurred on avoidable security risks sap economic resources that could otherwise be funneled to Indonesian economic development, but instead go to international insurers like Lloyds of London.

Indonesia has seen fluctuations in the levels of piracy it has experienced over the last decade. In the late ‘00s, Indonesia saw a 75 percent drop-off in piracy from earlier in the decade. However, that rate began rising again, jumping from 15 incidents in 2009 to 106 in 2013. [5] The reasoning behind the drop-off was largely due to an increased show of force in the Strait, brought about by increased international presence and cooperation. Indonesia has warmed to regional cooperation while continuing to reject western involvement in security matters, even more so recently under newly elected president, Joko Widodo. Widodo has welcomed the assistance of, among others, China, which has been eager to work with Indonesia as a way of strengthening the Maritime Silk Road, a part of China’s larger “string of pearls” maritime strategy. Such conversations with foreign powers indicate an increasing openness to foreign assistance.

Openness is critical for Indonesia, as they continue to lack the resources to effectively quell security issues within their sovereign borders. Instead, the state relies on other nations who also have stakes in the free passage of the Strait. Japan, China, and Singapore especially have much at stake due to the economic importance of the Strait as a trade route, and have financially backed the better part of Indonesia’s anti-piracy efforts. In addition to international patrols through the Strait, one of the most effective joint efforts is Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (creating the somewhat tortured acronym ReCAAP), an international effort that shares maritime surveillance data collected by interested nations with the Strait states (Indonesia and Malaysia are notably absent from ReCAAP but receive the data).

However, ending Indonesian piracy and armed robbery still requires Indonesian capability and effort. Such action is difficult when the major impetuses of piracy in Indonesia only continue to increase. The Strait of Malacca saw a 32 percent increase in vessel traffic between the years 2000 and 2010. [6] On the heels of a continued global recession, increasing ease of access to targets for piracy will only encourage those seeking an illicit economic option in Indonesia.

While piracy itself is a harm to Indonesia, its effects are wide-reaching to all areas of society. The capital foreign powers feel the need to invest in Indonesian security could otherwise be invested in infrastructure or other forms of economic development were it not for piracy. Thus, piracy’s economic impact is not just the direct influence of stolen goods, but also the opportunity cost for other projects. Further, private businesses are less likely to invest in Indonesia due to the capital that they must spend to secure their interests. The high costs, in terms of human and financial risk, deter businesses from investing further in Indonesia, hindering its further economic development. Additionally, piracy makes the navigation of a strategic chokepoint dangerous, hindering the physical transportation of aid in a number of forms, including humanitarian, on its way to Indonesia.

However, one form of aid which the United States and other powers with an interest in utilizing the Strait should eagerly offer Indonesia is aid in their transportation and storage sector. Indonesia’s large population means that there are markets in that country worth exploring for major corporations, but they are hindered by the country’s poor port infrastructure. In 2012, the United States sent USD $202.8 million to Indonesia in foreign aid. Only $109,000 of that was concerned with transportation infrastructure. That number should increase significantly in order to assist the Indonesians in creating long-term economic development and maritime security in the Strait. As Indonesian ports improve, shipping companies will be more likely to take the risk to do business in Indonesia, improving Indonesia’s economy on a sustainable basis. As the economy improves, Indonesia will have more resources to direct towards its security problem, finally quashing its problems with piracy and armed robbery.

Indonesia, thanks largely to prior autocratic rule, has yet to develop a strong free economy. However, with the recent democratic regime, the opportunity to develop economically is present. Further, Indonesia has a trump card: its geographic position. Some of the world’s most powerful trade states have a high interest in using an Indonesian resource.

However, the solution to an Indonesian problem must come from Indonesia itself. For any investment in its maritime sector to be a truly effective method of stopping piracy, Indonesia will need to create an effective bureaucracy capable of good governance on both land and sea. President Widodo has continuously emphasized his interest in seeing Indonesia become the “maritime axis” of the world. In order to do, Indonesia’s public and private sectors will need to reign in corruption, allocate resources smartly, and work to find the best economic solutions for all citizens. Only then will piracy finally be extinct in the Strait of Malacca.

Christopher Papas is an undergraduate student at The College of William and Mary, the Division Leader of the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary University Programs, and Acting Director of Publications at CIMSEC. His views are his own. This article was adapted from a paper for Professor Rani Mullen’s Politics in the Developing World class. Follow Christopher on Twitter: @CPapGo.


[1] “Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships: Report for the Period 1 January-30 September 2014” (ICC International Maritime Bureau, 2014), 5.

[2] Takashi Ichioka, “Cooperation in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore,” in Navigating Straits: Challenges for International Law, ed. David D. Caron and Nilufer Oral (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill, 2014), 343.

[3] Edward Aspinall, “Indonesia: Redistributing Power,” in Politics in the Developing World, ed. Peter Burnell, Lise Rakner, Vicky Randall (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 320.

[4] Mary George, “Security, Piracy and Terrorism in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore,” in Navigating Straits: Challenges for International Law, ed. David D. Caron and Nilufer Oral (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill, 2014), 316.

[5] “Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships: Report for the Period 1 January-31 December 2013” (ICC International Maritime Bureau, 2014), 5.

[6] Ichioka, “Cooperation,” 343.