Indonesia has demolished Sarawak firm Sacofa Sdn Bhd's facility that was built on one of its islands due to alleged breach of laws and after having expressed concern over national security, a report said.
Indonesia's First Adm. Semi Djoni Putra, who headed the demolition team, claimed that the telecommunications infrastructure firm's “Sarawak Gateway” landing station on Anambas Islands had breached two international laws.
Malaysia East-West Link Cable Map
The laws allegedly being broken were a 1983 law ratifying an Indonesian-Malaysian agreement on the laying of submarine cables, and a 1985 law ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
“The firm holds principle licence, but their operations are illegal and do not contribute to our national interest. On May 4, we summoned them, asked them to dismantle [the landing station] but they did not respond,” Semi was quoted saying by Indonesian paper The Jakarta Post.
According to the paper, Sacofa had in 2002 built the landing station that is linked to an undersea cable, with the Indonesian Army (TNI) viewing the latter as a threat to the republic’s national security.
It said heavy equipment had destroyed the six-room facility, which composed of a battery room, diesel tank room, equipment room, generator room, guard room and store room.
The Anambas Islands where the facility was built is among Indonesia's Natuna Islands in its Riau Islands province, with the Natuna Islands located between Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak.
According to Sacofa, half of its stake is owned by Cahya Mata Sarawak Bhd, the firm linked to Sarawak Governor Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud’s family. His son Datuk Seri Mahmud Abu Bekir Taib serves as Cahya Mata’s deputy group chairman.
Other shareholders included Sarawak's State Financial Secretary (20.51 per cent), Celcom Axiata Bhd (15.12 per cent), and with the remaining held by Sarawak Information Systems Sdn Bhd (7.57 per cent) and Yayasan Sarawak (6.80 per cent).
In April, TNI commander Gen. Gator Nurmantyo reportedly said Sacofa must stop its servers and fibre optic cable project, claiming that it could threaten Indonesia's security as an upgrading of the system could allegedly enable the sensing of all vibrations from the sea surface or submarines.
Gator had also cited the 1985 law where companies wishing to install undersea optical cables have to obtain permission from Indonesia, claiming that Sacofa's permit had lapsed last November 26 and that it had continued operations this March 23.
Local paper, “The Star”, last month reported Sacofa managing director Mohamed Zaid Mohamed Zaini as saying that the firm was ready to provide further information to clear up the “misunderstanding” with the authorities, noting that the Indonesian islands involved are merely a connection point where no landing rights permits would be needed.
ANALYSIS: From an industry perspective, this is a bizarre incident without precedent. Telecom infrastructure is generally regarded as sacrosanct and is not to be meddled with, far less demolished, without due process. And yet, there have been no protests from Sacofa, the Malaysian government, or the industry.
The “Malaysia East-West Link” was built by German suppliers, NSW (Norddeutsche Seekabelwerke) and Siemens, and commissioned by Sacofa in 2002 at a cost of US$36M. NSW is now a subsidiary of US firm, General Cable. The system spans a distance of 969 km and contains 12 Corning Vascade L1000 fiber pairs. It was installed as a 10 Gbit/s wavelength unrepeatered system. Pioneer Consulting has no record of any upgrades to the system.
The “Malaysia East-West Link” is ostensibly a domestic system, connecting Mersing, peninsular Malaysia, with Kuching, in Malaysia’s territory on the island of Borneo. However, since the system was designed without undersea repeaters, the spans between landing stations are limited to the distance that the signal can travel without requiring re-generation. Hence, the two intermediate landings on Indonesian soil at Terempa, Anambas Islands, and Penarik, Riau Islands.
The above article suggests that the cable landing station (CLS) at Terempa was demolished. There is no mention of the second CLS being touched. It could be that destroying one CLS renders the system inoperable. Another explanation would be that this is political grandstanding; a gesture to send a message to the Malaysians.
There is much else which is unclear from this story. Did Sacofa forget to renew their landing permission or was renewal held up in the Indonesian bureaucracy because the right “fee” had not been paid? When quoted in the article, Sacofa’s MD seemed to think that the situation was still retrievable. Did he underestimate the seriousness of the situation? He is also quoted as saying that there is no need for landing permission if the purpose is simply re-generation. Rules vary from country to country but it would seem unlikely that a country would allow assets from another country to be installed on its territory without due process and permission.
Of course, the Indonesian military’s claim that the cable represents a threat to national security because it could be used for clandestine purposes is quite far-fetched. Even if the Malaysians had such intent, the way to guard against it would have been for the Indonesians to bolt on legal interception monitoring equipment to the re-gen equipment in the CLS.
The lack of a response from Sacofa and the Malaysian Government is also odd and suggests that there is more to this story than meets the eye.
Julian Rawle, Author
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