INDONESIA - At a naval base south of Batam last week, senior officers from the navy, police, Customs and Transport Ministry gathered to witness the launch of Indonesia's first homemade patrol craft.
The two new boats are destined to serve next year in a new coast guard as the government steps up efforts to curb rising threats such as piracy, smuggling and illegal fishing in the sprawling archipelago.
The 48m-long boats, KN Bintang Laut 4801 and KN Singa Laut 4802, are equipped with 12.7mm and 20mm machine guns, cameras with a viewing range of up to 20km, and sophisticated surveillance devices.
Four more such vessels, each costing 58 billion rupiah (S$6.4 million), are being built in Batam and will be ready for use by the Maritime Security Agency (Bakorkamla), which is being upgraded into a fully fledged coast guard next year.
"The beefing up is timely. Our role is to fill the gap and consistently stay on call," Bakorkamla commander Bambang Suwarto told reporters.
"Up to this point, we have been using patrol boats that belonged to other agencies under our charge," he said.
Bakorkamla - which currently plays only a coordinating role - has eight 11m-long catamaran patrol vessels and 10 rift patrol ships donated by various countries, mainly Australia.
Vice-Admiral (Ret) Djoko Sumaryono, secretary-general of the association of retired Indonesian navy officers, believes that turning Bakorkamla into a coast guard would streamline Indonesia's maritime protection efforts.
Currently, Bakorkamla does not even have the authority to procure its own arms and ammunition, or issue directives.
Instead it can only ask for assistance from other relevant agencies, such as the navy, police, Transport Ministry and Customs.
Vice-Adm Bambang said that the two new patrol boats will be deployed to patrol Indonesia's exclusive economic zone (EEZ), including the Malacca Strait.
They can travel at speeds of up to 25 knots and cover more than 300km from shore, or the extent of the EEZ, he added.
One boat will also be used to safeguard next month's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bali.
But to fully secure Indonesian waters, he said, there would need to be some 500 patrol boats.
Any dedicated maritime protection agency in Indonesia faces a daunting task, considering it will have to cover the country's 81,000km of coastline and more than 5.6 million sq km of sea, noted parliamentarian Al Muzzammil Yusuf.
"Now, with the increasing defence spending allocation and the shift to using more locally made primary weaponry and defence systems, it is possible for Indonesia to do it right next year," he said.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.