‘Lapses In Professional Judgement’ Are The Next Target After Review of Australian Navy Breaches Of Indonesian Waters

Rough week: Scott Morrison. Pic: Getty

A joint defence and Customs review of six Australian navy incursions into Indonesian waters has recommended further investigation into whether “individual lapses of professional judgement” were involved in the incidents.

The review confirmed there were six separate breaches of Indonesian waters by Australian ships taking part in the Operation Sovereign Borders, concluding that each “was inadvertent and occurred as a result of miscalculation of Indonesian Maritime Boundaries by Australian Crews”.

The incursions have contributed to increasingly strained relations between Australia and Indonesia, which recalled its ambassador from Canberra last November following revelations that Australian spies had tried to tap the phones of senior Indonesian politicians including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife.

The review says that there were clear policy guidelines in place for Operation Sovereign Borders commanders, including an explicit policy that “activities are only to be conducted outside 12 nautical miles from Indonesia’s archipelagic baseline”.

Indonesia’s maritime borders extend beyond this limit in some areas, however, and the review identified an oversight at headquarters that could have avoided the breaches, and that appropriate controls were not in place to detect the breaches as they occurred.

The headquarters identified the requirement to obtain authoritative information on Indonesian maritime boundaries to inform the safe and proper conduct of the patrols. Despite recognising the importance of this information, headquarters staff supervising OSB tactical missions, effectively devolved the obligation to remain outside Indonesian waters to vessel Commanders. Headquarters staff accepted, without proper review, that the proposed patrol plans would result in vessels remaining outside Indonesian waters. The implementation of appropriate control measures would have reduced the risk of the inadvertent entry of vessels into Indonesian waters.

Had headquarters staff implemented appropriate control measures, informed by authoritative information on Indonesian maritime boundaries, the normal post activity reporting and checks would have detected the incursions as they occurred. This did not occur. The appropriate controls were not put in place by the relevant headquarters.

The six incursions were only discovered on January 15th when planning staff discovered problems with the patrol reporting methods.

Immigration minister Scott Morrison said this evening on ABC News that any potential disciplinary actions would be a matter for the Chief of Navy and Customs.