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Indonesian Navy Ships Not Fit to Fight (03 Jul 2002)

Most of the ships are not fully operational because of problems, dealing a blow to its plan to combat piracy and smuggling

Jakarta - Indonesian navy chief Bernard Kent Sondakh has said that the navy's 113 ships are fit to sail but not fight- a startling revelation that throws into doubt its ability to crack down on the rising piracy, smuggling and illegal-immigrant problems in the sprawling archipelago.

A parliamentary hearing was told that most of the ships from the Netherlands, the former East Germany, Yugoslavia, and from the state-owned PT PAL shipyard were not fully operational because of ageing engines and obsolete weapons.

Analysts, blaming budget constraints for the problem, said that this made the navy's task of patrolling the country's 17,000 islands "a nightmare".

The disclosure by Admiral Sondakh on Monday raises concerns among neighboring countries given Indonesia's recent pledges to address problems like smuggling and especially piracy jointly.

A trilateral pact between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines signed in May obliges them to monitor terrorism, smuggling, piracy, hijacking, intrusion, illegal entry, drug trafficking, theft of marine resources, marine pollution and illicit trafficking in arms.

The Straits of Malacca, which separates the Malaysian peninsula and the Indonesian archipelago, has always been a favourite haunt of modern-day buccaneers, accounting for nearly three-quarters of the world's pirate activity.

The Kuala-Lumpur-based International Maritime Bureau (IMB) recently described Indonesian waters as the most pirate-infested in the world. It recorded 22 separate pirate attacks during the first three months of this year.

Indonesian navy officers said that anti-piracy efforts had actually been stepped up this year but the navy cannot do more than required because the ships are not up to mark.

A senior naval officer said that Only 30 per cent of the ships are operational. We will never be able to fight a conventional naval battle with another country. And it has reached a stage where it is impeding efforts to root out problems like piracy.

Much of the problem lies in the age of the ships. A third of the force's 113 ships are over 30 years old. Only eight of the vessels are less than 10 years old.

The navy tried to address some of the problems a decade ago by purchasing 30 ships form East Germany. But the decision backfired when it was found most of the vessels required a massive overhaul.

Admiral Sondakh said that the aim was to upgrade these ships - 16 Porchim-class corvettes together with 14 Frosch-class LST troop carriers and nine condor class mine sweepers.

The military paradigm is changing in which the navy and air force are going to play a bigger role in Indonesian national security.