Detained asylum seekers gather at a hotel in Tasikmalaya, Java, Feb. 8 after the group was turned back by the Australian Navy, according to Indonesian authorities. The Australian Navy violated Indonesian territorial waters six times between December and January as part of border security operations, according to a report. (Bustomi / AFP)
SYDNEY — The Australian Navy violated Indonesian territorial waters six times between December and January as part of border security operations, an official report revealed Wednesday.
Canberra has previously only said its ships “inadvertently” violated Indonesian waters, without saying how often. It has formally apologized to Jakarta, which demanded Australia suspend its operations to deter asylum-seekers.
“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,” the review said.
Conducted by the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Australian Defence Force, it examined all navy and customs patrols as part of the military-led Operation Sovereign Borders between Dec. 1 and Jan. 20.
It said the clear instruction to commanders was to stay 12 nautical miles outside the Indonesian archipelago baseline.
“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 said.
Only an executive summary of the report was released and it did not say why the ships entered Indonesian waters although the speculation is that they were towing back asylum-seekers boats.
Asylum-seekers arriving on unauthorized boats in Australia, often via Indonesia, are a sensitive issue for both sides, with Canberra’s vital relationship with Jakarta already strained over spying allegations.
Under the government’s hardline policies, not only are asylum-seekers arriving by boat sent to Pacific island camps for processing with no chance of settlement in Australia, but boats intercepted at sea can be turned back to Indonesia.
It appears to be working with no boat arrivals in two months although the policy has angered Jakarta which has suggested it could infringe the country’s sovereignty.
The review made five recommendations to ensure the incursions do not happen again.