Traffic Separation Scheme in the Sunda Strait and Lombok Strait: Impact on International Shipping

Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) is an important legal regime for international shipping. As per Article 41 of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).“States bordering straits may designate sea lanes and prescribe traffic separation schemes for navigation in straits where necessary to promote the safe passage of ships”. Further, “in straits used for international navigation, all ships enjoy right of transit which shall not be impeded” and “transit passage should solely be for the purpose of continuous and expeditious transit”.

The Sunda Strait and Lombok Strait are used for international navigation and are also part of the Indonesia’s maritime zones which makes the country obligated under 1982 UNCLOS to promulgate the TSS. Indonesia’s Traffic Separation Scheme, dubbed Indo-TSS for convenience, is categorically unique in the world; it is the first of its kind to be adopted by an archipelago country. Legally speaking, Sunda Strait and Lombok Strait are part of the Indonesian territorial waters, and no single part of these fall within the remit of the international seas or bordering other countries. By comparison, Strait of Malacca has four states as its littoral i.e. Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

Indonesia announced that it would promulgate the TSS by July 1 after receiving response from its multiple domestic maritime agencies. This proposal to implement such a policy was granted by the International Maritime Organization two years ago. Media reported that Directorate General of Sea Transport, Ministry of Transport is the leading agency in charge of the scheme enforcement and the department has established vessel traffic systems (VTS) in Banten province to monitor Sunda Strait, and in Benoa, Bali province to keep an eye on the Lombok Strait. It also provided several patrol vessels to ensure compliance and punish any ship that violates the regulations. However, complaints can be envisaged to arise spesically from international ship masters who are not quite clear about the mandatory provisions of the TSS.

For Indonesia, managing a TSS of its own is a new experience. It has triggered euphoria among local public and authorities. Port operators and shipping companies are excited and considers it an opportunity to set up commercial activities such as bunkering services, ship replenishment, pilotage, alternative shipping routes, etc.

Weeks before the commencement of Indo-TSS, the Indonesian authorities conducted safety, security and communication drills in Sunda Strait and Lombok Strait to ascertain the effectiveness of their communication protocols, interception ability, and law enforcement procedures. International shipping and mariners transiting the two Straits commented that they witnessed a ‘war zone with exercises’.The officials reportedly reiterated warnings to shipping and mariners that there will be legal consequences on the scene and onshore if they breach it.

Given the fact that a plethora of law enforcement institutions are connected with Indonesia’s maritime domain, the warning scan potentially be worrying alarm for the shipping industry. The baseline of the querry is ‘who is really in charge’? Going by the 2008 Shipping Act, such powers rest with the Ministry of Transport through its Directorate General of Sea Transport.On the other hand, by virtue of their respective Acts, the two Straits are under multiple national jurisdictions; the National Police, Indonesian Navy and Indonesia Maritime Security Board (Bakamla), can also conduct operations under the above question.

So far, transit at Sunda Strait and Lombok Strait is dominated by local vessels. But as part of the Indonesian Archipelagic Sea Lanes, the two waters are also used by the international shipping (merchant ships and warships) sailing to and from Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean. It is unclear whether international shipping issufficiently informed on the issues of Indo-TSS.

There is scepticism over the Indo-TSS which apparently stems from Indonesia’s maritime law architecture that has many actors rather than any other reason. There are five national agencies to enforce law of the country in territorial watersand the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). By regulations established to empower them, each agency actually has been allotted a specific sector like fisheries or shipping for instance. Nevertheless,for years up to now,the demarcation of duties is trespassed wherein the shipping sector is the favourite choice to be “invaded”.There are lot of cases of this practice and the worst of it is that “the invader” happily show off their “invasion” in front of media in forms of press conference. Multiple ‘invading agencies’ intercept commercial shipping vessels on voyage, board ship and interrogate crew over certificates or other aspects. An Indonesian shipping association ever disclosed that the corruption in the industry could be in trillions of rupiah. Despite these short comings, Indonesia has a huge tasks to make the Indo-TSS operational and ensure safe transit for international shipping.

Mr Siswanto Rusdi, Director, The National Maritime Institute (NAMARIN), an independent maritime think tank in Jakarta

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