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IBRU: Centre for Borders Research

Boundary news

Boundary news Headlines

Australian naval vessels breach Indonesian territorial waters

(20 February 2014)

Australian authorities acknowledged that its naval ships violated Indonesian territorial waters six times between December 1st 2013 and January 20th 2014 as part of border security operations. Indonesian naval intelligence reported that the Australian vessels had come within seven miles of Rote Island shore, breaching the 12 nautical miles of Indonesia’s territorial waters.

A review conducted by the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Australian Defence Force examined all navy and customs patrols as part of the military led Operation Sovereign Borders. The review stated that, “Indonesian maritime boundaries constituted important operational information that should have been provided by the headquarters to the commanders of vessels assigned to Operation Sovereign Borders. Despite clear guidance to operational headquarters and assigned units, the imperative to remain outside Indonesian waters did not receive adequate attention during mission execution or oversight”. It further declared, “On each occasion, the incursion was inadvertent, in that each arose from incorrect calculation of the boundaries of Indonesian waters rather than as a deliberate action or navigational error”.

Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison stated, “It’s very clear from the government’s policies and operational instructions that operations were to be done only where it was safe to do so and they were not to incur on Indonesian sovereign territory within 12 nautical miles of the archipelago baseline. It was an accident”. He continued, “Serious implications remain in terms of our relations with Indonesia, highlighting a systemic problem arising out of this government’s border-protection policy”.

Indonesian navy spokesperson Commodore Untung Suropati commented, “In the current era, navigation equipment to determine the position of a ship is very advanced. Therefore, it is not reasonable if it is said to be unintentional or not knowing. This is not only the view of the Indonesian navy, but it is also shared with all other institutions and our stakeholders, especially those operating in sea, that that the Australian navy has violated Indonesian territory”. 

Only an executive summary of the report has been released, failing to clarify vessels’ missions when they made the incursions into Indonesian maritime territory.


“Australian navy went into Indonesian waters ‘too easily’ and ‘often’”, Kate Lamb and Oliver Laughland, The Guardian, 14th February 2014.

“Border incursion review set for release”, Sky News, 18th February 2014.

“Australia navy entered Indonesia waters six times”, Channel News Asia, 19th February 2014.

“Morrison says no more border incursions”, Sky News, 19th February 2014.

“Miscalculations blamed for six ‘inadvertent’ border breaches”, Ben Packham, The Australian, 19th February 2014.