Will Nusantara affect Straits of Malacca?

May 31, 2022 @ 12:05am

Will Nusantara affect Straits of Malacca? (nst.com.my)

LETTERS: Indonesia is moving forward to construct a new capital city, Nusantara, in East Kalimantan to resolve overcrowding problems in Jakarta and create more development outside Java.

East Kalimantan borders the Makassar Strait, a crucial sea line of communication in Southeast Asia. The Indonesian Archipelagic Sea Lane Route II runs through the Lombok-Makassar route.

There are two major ports along the coast of Makassar Strait — Port of Semayang in Balikpapan and Samarinda.

But they are not Indonesia’s busiest.

The busiest ports in Indonesia, Tanjung Priok and Tanjung Perak, are on the island of Java, quite distant from Makassar Strait.

At the moment, the Straits of Malacca and Singapore route is the second busiest in the world after the Dover Strait in the United Kingdom. The Nippon Maritime Centre in Singapore reported that the annual navigational traffic passing the straits have gone beyond 85,000 since 2017.

Besides the Malacca-Singapore route, the Sunda and Lombok-Makassar routes are significant maritime highways in Southeast Asia.

They are regarded as alternative routes and carry a fraction of what the Straits of Malacca and Singapore route sees.

As Nusantara will have an international seaport, the new Indonesian capital might affect the supremacy of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore route as the foremost maritime route in Southeast Asia.

In 2005, the Straits of Malacca was designated a “war-risk” zone by the Lloyds Maritime Insurance Unit due to active pirate attacks and rampant maritime crime.

To guarantee navigational safety of transiting vessels, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore worked together to combat maritime crime.

The efforts were successful and the “war-risk” zone designation of the Malacca Straits was lifted a year later.

Learning from the Malacca Straits experience, Malaysia could take advantage of the establishment of Nusantara by developing the east coast of Sabah, which is a vital entry and exit point into Makassar Strait, as a shipping hub.

This can also help combat maritime crime in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone.

Regardless, the Straits of Malacca and Singapore will likely remain the preferred route as it is still the shortest one connecting East Asian economic giants with their West Asian petroleum suppliers.

Annually, 30 per cent of the world’s oil shipment passes through these waterways.

Until today, the Straits of Malacca and Singapore route sees 22 times more shipments than the Sunda or Lombok-Makassar route.

Unlike the Straits of Malacca and Singapore route, which is well-equipped with renowned international seaports like Singapore, Port Klang and Tanjung Pelepas, this may not be the case for ports along the Makassar Strait.

These three ports are among the world’s top 20 busiest container ports, according to the American Association of Port Authorities in 2021.

On the other hand, Tanjung Priok, Indonesia’s busiest port, is not on the list and Jakarta remains Indonesia’s commercial hub.

Until and unless East Asian economic powerhouses cease importing their petroleum from the Middle East, the construction of Nusantara will not significantly impact maritime traffic flow through key waterways in Southeast Asia, particularly the Straits of Malacca and Singapore.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR DR MOHD HAZMI MOHD RUSLI

Senior lecturer, Faculty of Syariah and Law, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia, and research fellow at the Australian National University Malaysia Institute, Canberra.

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