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Reader riposte: Considering Indonesia's boundaries


24 January 2014 15:45

A reader responds to James Goldrick's post on Indonesia's maritime boundaries (James responds to these questions further down the page):

Thank you. A nice article. When I heard Australia's announcement of the transgressions, it struck me that if it is so difficult to determine the boundary, how is it that Australia could be so definite that it had crossed that boundary? The announcement wasn't tentative, it was precise. It seems to me that they always knew they had crossed but for some reason decided to announce that they had. It seems that the Indonesians hadn't caught Australia in the act and that it was only Australia's confession that made it known. Perhaps those at a lower operational level had been doing it for some time not thinking they were doing any wrong and that at a higher level someone decided that it was time to confess? Can you shed any light?

RESPONSE FROM JAMES GOLDRICK: My disclaimer is that I do not know exactly what happened. My first reaction, however, is that the idea that there was some sort of higher level conspiracy is nonsense.

What is clear from the public statements is that there was a collective misunderstanding of what constitutes Indonesian territorial waters. I note in particular that the statements indicate that no ship approached within 12 miles of any land. Given that warships do not generally broadcast their positions continuously (as merchant ships do when fitted with systems such as the Automatic Identification System (AIS) beacon) it is likely that the error became evident to someone only in retrospect, possibly when writing up the operation in an after-action report. The ships clearly had NOT 'always' known that they had crossed a boundary until this point. The problem was reported up the chain after discovery of the problem. The fact that there was some sort of error made by the units involved was publicly admitted by the government without much delay that I can see and a full apology given to Indonesia, despite all the political inconveniencies of that admission and that apology.

I make no excuses on behalf of those involved in relation to whatever mistakes were made over the position of the maritime boundary. I do, however, want to take the opportunity to say that the tone of some of the commentary (as in the appalling tweets to the Chief of Navy) over the whole maritime border protection issue constitutes a form of institutional libel, which would get people in court if expressed about individuals. The Navy has been through this before, but it is a source of great frustration to those in uniform as they naturally feel that their personal reputations are being assailed along with that of their Service.

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