Jakarta denies telling navy to sink ships smuggling sand to S’pore

Indonesian officials rejected Malaysian reports that Jakarta had ordered the navy to sink ships smuggling sand from the waters off the Riau islands to Singapore.

Accusing the Malaysian media of trying to inflame Singapore-Indonesia ties, a naval officer here told The Straits Times that the military would ‘never act indiscriminately’, especially against commercial vessels of a friendly neighbouring country.

‘I have a message to the Malaysian paper that ran this report which sounds a bit like a man bites dog’ story: Please use your common sense. There are proper rules of engagement that we follow and only in the most extreme cases do we resort to force,’ he said.

‘Who is this legislator that they are quoting? Does he know anything about naval operations and what right does he have to speak on behalf of the military and government of Indonesia?’

The Malaysian daily Berita Harian ran a front-page story yesterday quoting the Riau district head of the local parliament, Mr Andi Anhar Chalid, as saying Indonesia had ordered its navy to sink dredgers smuggling sand to Singapore.

The report, also carried by the New Straits Times, said a number of ships had been stopped by the navy after Jakarta restricted the export of sand to Singapore.

‘Since sand was exported to Singapore almost 20 years ago, the Republic has never acknowledged Indonesia as the source, and the country has been on the losing end,’ Mr Andi reportedly said. He could not be contacted for comment.

Singapore’s response to such criticism in the past has been that sand imports are handled by contractors on a purely commercial basis. It has also made clear that it expects sand suppliers to comply with the laws of the country from which they buy sand.

Mr Marty Natalegawa of the Foreign Ministry here said Jakarta was concerned about the smuggling of sand to Singapore and both countries had discussed the issue.

But there were ‘established procedures’ and bilateral forums for dealing with it, he said.

‘We won’t deal with it in a gung ho manner as suggested by the Malaysians,’ he added.

‘We have good ties with Singapore and would not want to damage it in any way by doing something irrational.’

The naval officer, part of the western fleet overseeing operations in the Riau area, said both nations held annual bilateral exercises and joint patrols to deal with such problems.

‘Both sides know that smuggling is a serious problem but we are taking steps to address the problem,’ he said.

‘We have not received any order from our commander to fire at any ship, especially against Singapore ships.

‘Please let the Malaysian media know this.’

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