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The Next Step in Indonesia-Japan Cooperation to Address Marine Pollution

By Senia Febrica


Photo Credit: Isukadis (Dede)


Cooperation between Indonesia and Japan to address marine pollution began in the 1960s. For decades, cooperation between the two countries in pollution prevention has primarily focused on the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. This sea-lane is the shortest sea route between the Middle East and Asia. A large amount of the imported oil for Asia Pacific countries, including around 80 per cent of Japan and China’s imported oil originating from the Persian Gulf transits through the Strait of Malacca and Singapore (United States Energy Information Administration, 28 March 2011). At least 400 ships navigate through the Straits of Malacca and Singapore every day.


In recent years, Indonesia and Japan’s cooperation to address marine pollution takes three forms: research, technical and expert assistance, and training. First, in terms of research the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry and its Japanese counterpart have surveyed a number of waterways in Indonesia that are categorised as marine pollution high-risk areas including Bitung, North Sulawesi; Muara Angke, Jakarta; and Jembrana, Bali (Kompas, 2 August 2012). The research team discovered that deliberate bilge from fishing vessels was one of the main causes of marine pollution in these areas. The large increase of marine pollution in Indonesian waters was in-line with the growth of Indonesia’s fishing fleet (Kompas, 2 August 2012).


Second, with regards to technical assistance, Japan has sent experts to design technical guidance, business model, investment models, regulatory frameworks and public education materials regarding ways to reduce, sort-out and process waste into renewable energy. For this purpose, Japan has worked together with the Indonesian Ministry of Environment. Surabaya, one of Indonesia’s largest port cities was assigned as a pilot location for the location of an Indonesia-Japan waste-to-energy power plant (Antara, 17 January 2017). The next target cities include Jakarta, Bandung, Semarang, Solo, Tangerang, Makassar and Manado (Antara, 17 January 2017).


Third, Japan has cooperated with Indonesia in joint training to prevent and control marine pollution. As part of the implementation of the Sulawesi Sea Oil Spill Response Network Plan 1981 Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines have carried out bi-annual Marine Polution Exercises (Marpolex). The three countries have also conducted joint training since 1986 (Antara, 26 June 2013). The purpose of Marpolex is to evaluate these countries capacity in dealing with oil spills, and improve cooperation in fire-fighting, search and rescue, recovery after oil spill disasters, and assessment of damage and claims (Antara, 26 June 2013; Indonesian Ministry of Transportation, 17 May 2017). According to the Indonesian Presidential Regulation No.109/2006 regarding Emergency Response to Counter Oil Spill at Sea if at national level Indonesia cannot deal with oil spill the Director General of Sea Transportation as the Head of the National Command and Control Center for Emergency Oil Spill at Sea can ask for assistance from neighbouring countries, including Japan and the Philippines (Indonesian Ministry of Transportation, 17 May 2017). Most recent, in July 2019 coast guard personnel from Indonesia, Japan, and the Philippines took part in MARPOLEX as part of the implementation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Oil Spill Response Action Plan and Sulawesi Oil Spill Network Response Plan (Indonesian Ministry of Transportation, 2 July 2019).


In close to two decades there has been a reduction in oil spills despite a massive increase in oil cargos (see Balch, 2013). However, in recent years there is an increase in other source of pollution such as marine plastics. Plastic litter includes various items such as shopping bags, beverage bottles, food wrappers, and fishing gear. As a pollutant, marine plastic is harmful for the environment because plastic items can take hundreds of years to decompose. Marine plastic litter also poses a danger to shipping. For example, abandoned or lost fishing nets can become entangled in propellers and rudders (IMO, 30 October 2018). More needs to be done to address the environmental and health problems posed by marine plastic litter such as strengthening public awareness, improving the availability and adequacy of port reception facilities, and promoting reporting of fishing gear losses. Japan and Indonesia should cooperate more or build on existing cooperation arrangements to meet new challenges like marine plastics.


Indonesia and Japan, as two maritime nations in the Asia-Pacific with strong shipping and fishing interests should build on their history of cooperation regarding maritime issues and take the lead in collaborative efforts to address marine plastic pollution. The joint statement between the Japanese Environment Minister Yoshiaki Harada and Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan on tackling marine plastic pollution issued on June 27th, 2019 was a step in right direction. Prior to the signing of this joint statement, the two countries have also collaborated in the Citarum river clean-up to that began in 2018 (Antara, 8 August 2018; Liputan 6, 19 February 2021). The Indonesian Minister for Maritime Affairs, Luhut Pandjatitan, noted that the Citarum clean-up and other government policies from 2018 to 2020 has contributed in halting 15 per cent of plastics and other debris from land sources in Indonesia to end up in the ocean (Liputan 6, 19 February 2021). More concrete activities will be needed in the years to come in order to address plastic pollution. As the World Bank notes, despite Indonesia’s dependence on the marine environment, the country releases “the equivalent of almost 2,000 Boeing 747 aircraft full of plastic into the ocean every year (between 201.1–552.3 thousand tons)” (World Bank, 6 October 2020). The Indonesian government has committed to reducing marine debris by 70 per cent by 2025 (World Bank, 6 October 2020). Collaboration between Indonesia and Japan could contribute in improving methods in monitoring and collection of marine plastics off Indonesian coasts, increasing recycling programs, and finding alternative materials to plastics.



*This blogpost is based on Dr Senia Febrica research funded by the Sumitomo Foundation (Grant holders: Dr Febrica and Suzie Sudarman, MA)

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