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Debt row hampers Indonesian navy

By Lucy Williamson
BBC News, Jakarta

Indonesian navy, searching for ferry sinking survivors, West Sulawesi, 12 Jan 09
The Indonesian navy is often called out for emergency search and rescue work

Indonesia's navy has said that its ability to carry out emergency search and rescue operations is being threatened by a lack of fuel.

It said its ability to perform regular patrols is also affected.

The navy has regularly requested fuel from Indonesia's state oil company to help it deal with disasters.

However, the navy says its rising debts to Pertamina have made the relationship increasingly fractious, which in turn is putting its operations at risk.

When a ferry sank off Indonesia's coastline last month, the navy were called in to help search for survivors.

For days their boats were seen scouring the waters around Sulawesi.

What was not seen was the difficulties navy chiefs say they had in getting hold of the fuel to put their boats to sea.

Disaster debt

The problem is that while the navy is required to help in disasters like this, they have never had the money to pay for the extra fuel.

Since the 2004 Asian tsunami, their debt to the state oil company, Pertamina, has grown to $400m (£277m).

A new agency set up this year to pay for emergency operations does not seem to have made things any easier.

A navy spokesman said that last month, Pertamina initially refused to provide fuel for the navy's rescue operation, forcing the government to intervene.

Pertamina denies this, but it has complained to the government about the rising debt.

Budgets for Indonesia's armed forces are a constant source of debate here, and the navy says that its budget is now so low, it can only afford to use five ships per day to patrol Indonesia's vast coastline.

Indonesia is already a hotspot for piracy, and the navy says the lack of patrols will almost certainly have an impact on crimes like illegal logging and people smuggling.

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