Geopolitik Energi

April 12, 2007


The Dispute over Ambalat

Indonesia and Malaysia’s dispute over part of the Celebes (Sulawesi) Sea off the east coast of Borneo (Kalimantan to Indonesia), termed “Ambalat” or the “Ambalat offshore area”, emerged in February-March 2005. The dispute came to prominence as a result of the issuing of exploration licenses for two deep-water oil concession blocks, ND6 and ND7, by Malaysia’s national oil company Petronas to its own exploration arm, Petronas Carigali, in partnership with international oil giant Royal Dutch/Shell Group on 16 February 2005. The Malaysian blocks largely overlap with a brace of Indonesian blocks, the Ambalat block and East Ambalat block, which were licensed to Italian oil major ENI and US-based oil multinational Unocal, in December 2004. The dispute is therefore directly linked to issues of energy security in terms of securing seabed hydrocarbon resources for each state.

The Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs termed Malaysia’s action “a violation of Indonesia’s sovereignty” and warned Shell to stay out of Indonesian waters.8 Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar reacted by observing that while Kuala Lumpur had indeed received the protest note, Malaysia had itself despatched similar protests to Jakarta over the concessions the Indonesian authorities had issued to ENI and Unocal.9

As diplomatic relations soured, both sides rushed to deploy military forces to the ill-defined disputed area. On March 3, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered the military (Tentara Nasional Indonesia – TNI) to protect Indonesian sovereignty and secure the disputed area, and it was announced that three Indonesian naval vessels were already patrolling the disputed zone. Indonesia’s Eastern Fleet Task Force was then gradually reinforced, eventually bringing the Indonesian Navy’s presence up to eight vessels supported by four F-16 fighter jets which were reposted to Balikpapan in East Kalimantan on March 7.10 Malaysia argued against military escalation with Foreign Minister Albar, stating that Malaysia “will not do anything beyond what we consider as our rightful maritime area in line with the law of the sea. To me, there is no need to send ships”.11 Nonetheless, Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) and marine police vessels were reportedly deployed to the disputed area, and on March 4 the Malaysian media announced that the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) had reinforced its units based in Sabah and Sarawak.12 Subsequently, as diplomatic talks proceeded (see below), the number of Indonesian military vessels in the disputed area was halved, matching the number of Malaysian patrol boats, though suggestions of a “withdrawal” on Indonesia’s part were denied.13

The inherent dangers involved in having rival naval vessels in close proximity to one another, both engaged in patrolling what they regard as ‘their’ maritime space and in a context of strained bilateral relations was amply demonstrated by the collision between Indonesian naval vessel KRI Tedung Naga and Malaysian patrol boat KD Rencong, which caused minor damage to both vessels. Indonesian military sources accused the Malaysians of ramming the Indonesian naval craft. However, Indonesian Navy Chief Admiral Salamet Soebijanto commented that the incident occurred when the Indonesian vessel “tried to drive the Malaysian vessel out of our maritime territory”, indicating a robust, confrontational approach from the TNI.14

The incident provoked an emergency meeting between Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his top military commanders, whom he instructed to refrain from confrontation, so as to allow the two governments to continue their search for a peaceful diplomatic settlement. Malaysian governmental sources also called for calm, with Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Najib Razak stating on April 12 that the navy had been told to “exercise restraint” and adhere to strict rules of engagement, while fellow Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Najib declared that it was not Malaysia’s intent to “edge towards conflict”.15 Nonetheless, both sides declared their intention to continue their patrols in the disputed area in order to emphasize their claims.16 While each claimant’s navy has been instructed to patrol only their ‘own’ waters, the fact remains that an area of overlapping claims exists, bringing the two sides’ naval vessels into close proximity, thus raising the possibility of further incidents occurring.

The dispute has therefore witnessed repeated claims and counter-claims regarding violations of national sovereignty, multiple diplomatic protests, and an alarming military build-up in the disputed area. Furthermore, in Indonesia the dispute has been characterized by popular anti-Malaysian street protests, flag-burnings and inflammatory nationalist commentary in the media. Why has the dispute aroused such passions, especially in Indonesia?


  1. Bung,

    Bagus euy blognya…
    Kebetulan saya juga tertarik dengan isu-isu hubungan internasional dan internasional politik.
    Coba dong, ulas teori politik internasional punya Kenneth Waltz

    Comment by sholi — August 31, 2007 @ 10:22 am | Reply

  2. bagus…tpi bahasa inggrisnya itu loh,, pegel bacanya!!

    Comment by indah — April 16, 2008 @ 6:08 am | Reply

  3. fuck bgt malaysia

    Comment by wahyi — March 19, 2009 @ 8:05 am | Reply

  4. Outstanding article!! Will come back soon.

    Comment by DescuemDerb — May 20, 2009 @ 7:03 pm | Reply

  5. Hancurkan malaysia, fuck jöngos britis.

    Comment by Merah putih — June 4, 2009 @ 5:18 am | Reply

  6. Sdh taon 2009, Malay’sin’ masih aj nyolek2 Ambalat,Ooi..INA tegaz dong… Gayang Malaysia…:-(

    Comment by Nieki — June 4, 2009 @ 10:26 am | Reply

  7. malaysialan anjiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinggnnngggg

    Comment by cata — June 13, 2009 @ 7:58 am | Reply

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