By: Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat and Dikanaya Tarahita

As the head of the world’s 15th-largest economy, Indonesian President Joko Widodo  from the day of his election announced his ambition to strengthen the country as Asia’s maritime powerhouse and boost its economic growth above 5.4 percent in 2018.

However, four years later his maritime policy is flagging. Although ports are being upgraded to facilitate what he called a “sea toll road”  in hopes of evening out the country’s spotty economic development, and the navy’s aging fleet is being upgraded, the sea’s potential remains mostly potential.

Currently according to Indonesia’s Central Bureau of Statistics (BPS), only 7.87 million of its 261 million people rely on jobs in and around the maritime sector, minuscule in relation to other sectors. With a total area of 1.9 million square kilometers, Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelagic state. From the westernmost to the easternmost of its 17,500 islands, the sea extends more than 5,000 km with more than 17.500 islands, many still unexplored. Some 79 percent of its territory is water, raising anticipation of the economic potential that could be generated from these natural resources.

Economists estimate that Indonesian seas hold economic value of Rp17,550 trillion, or about US$1.3 trillion, if its benefits were to be properly managed and its values are not wasted. However, from this gigantic figure, only 8 to 9 percent has been utilized.

In March 2017, three years after he came to power, Jokowi issued his long-awaited Indonesian Sea Policy designed to “facilitate the acceleration” of what he is calling his Global Maritime Fulcrum. Under the policy, Indonesia is tasked with rebuilding its maritime culture, managing its marine resources, developing maritime infrastructure and connectivity, advancing maritime diplomacy and boosting maritime defense forces. The document contains hundreds of recommendations and subtexts.

But as Evan Lacksmana, a Jakarta-based researcher for the Center for Strategic and International Studies pointed out, “it is not clear how the hundreds of preexisting programs and activities could solidify or elevate the…expansive vision. If they were formulated by the different ministries and agencies based on their bureaucratic calculations and interests, why should we expect them to fit neatly into the new Sea Policy framework? This is particularly likely given that the regulation lacks a clear assessment metric of policy success.

“Ultimately, while the Sea Policy regulation and its accompanying document are a significant development in Jokowi’s GMF, whether and under what conditions the doctrine becomes a geopolitical game-changer remains to be seen.”

So far during Jokowi’s stint in office, the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fishery has performed spectacularly, fighting illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, repeatedly blowing fishing foreign boats to bits with dynamite when they encroach in Indonesian waters. The ministry claims that maximum sustainable yield of the fishery has nearly doubled to 12.5 million tonnes in 2017 from 7.3 million tonnes in 2015.

Although the government has provided fishermen with  755 new fishing boats, however,  2017 production only increased by 14 percent, to 7.67 million tonnes, up from 6.54 million tonnes in 2016. Aquaculture fishery rose only slightly, to 16.1 million tonnes from 16.0 million in 2016.

One of the reasons for the stubborn lack of growth in productivity is the scarcity of fishermen in the country. Overall, Indonesia has only 2.17 million fishermen—a minute 0.87 percent of the total workforce. Since the last decade the number of traditional fishermen decreased by almost half to only 864,000. Those are small fishermen who work independently and sail on small boats. Their business management remains traditional and they possess limited knowledge and skills, nor are they equipped with modern fishing gear and facilities.

If the Jokowi government is to maximize its maritime policy, governments should assist these fishermen, providing them with training and capital injection to not only facilitate modern fishery technology but to equip them with environmentally friendly knowledge of fishing techniques that allow them to maintain fish resources and surrounding habitat.

Mineral and Renewable Energy Resource Potential

This vast sea holds a treasure trove of abundant mineral resources. There are about 40 oil basin sites in Indonesian waters, reserving 70 percent of oil potential. Other mineral content such as tin, gold, chromite, marine biogenic gas and hydrothermal minerals are also present. So far only 10 of these sites have been explored and utilized.

Edlar Usman, the Head of Marine Geology Research and Development Center (Pusat Penelitian dan Pengembangan Geologi Kelautan), has forecast that the potential of Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) in Indonesia is the largest in the world. OTEC is one of the newest technologies, producings electrical energy by using generators powered with energy resulting from the temperature variance between the top and bottom layers of the ocean found in tropical marine waters.

The largest potential is found in 17 locations spreading from the west coast of Sumatra, southern Java, Sulawesi, North Maluku, Bali to Flores Sea. These 17 spots are predicted to produce 41 gigawatts of power. However, Usman is optimistic that there is potential for OTEC across Indonesian waters to produce as much as 240 gigawatts.

This discovery would support national energy security, with OITEC reducing the dependence of electrical energy  currently sourced from fossil fuel power plants with oil (51.66 percent) and natural gas (28.57 percent), major contributors to greenhouse gases.

As energy consumption increases, the urgency to utilize OTEC is a top priority. OTEC’s utilization not only produces electricity but also pure water as a result of sea water evaporation. And in the long run the process will provide nutrients to the surrounding marine biota.

Marine Tourism Potential

With 81,000 km of coastline and 50,875 km of coral reefs, Indonesia actually has tremendous natural assets to escalate marine tourism potential. This equatorial country is also home to 21 percent of coral reefs and 75 percent of coral species in the world. Bearing the title of the world’s coral reef heaven, a variety of rare biota are found in Indonesian waters.

However, it is unfortunate that Indonesia’s marine tourism performance is much lower than other neighboring countries whose maritime potentials are much smaller, such as Singapore and Malaysia. Throughout the year 2017, Tourism Minister, Arief Yahya, announced that maritime tourism only contributes 10 percent (US$1 billion) of Indonesia foreign exchange earnings. Malaysia dredges up eight times or equivalent to US$8 billion from the same sector. Thailand, the region’s top tourism destination, generated a whopping US$46 billion in 2016.

The biodiversity and beauty of Indonesian beaches, if promoted, would be a natural major destination for local and foreign tourists given the wealth of coral clusters and marine biota in unexplored and pristine surroundings. Unfortunately accessibility is an important issue. Poor transportation access to and from tourist attractions not only makes tourists reluctant to visit, but also presents safety risks.

Infrastructure development should be improved so that a variety of marine tourisms such as ecotourism, cruise tourism, sport tourism, seaside tourism and culture tourism can be optimized. Such efforts could help maximize the potentials of Indonesia’s maritime sector, which then could help improve the country’s economy.

Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat and Dikanaya Tarahita write frequently on Indonesian social and economic issues.