Slamet Susanto and Blontak Poer, The Jakarta Post, Cilacap, Central Java
Nusakambangan, an island of some 21,000 square meters located south of Cilacap regency in Central Java, has long been known as a prison island where first-class criminals ranging from thieves and murderers to corruptors and terrorists are locked up under maximum security.
Convicted corrupter Pande Lubis, hammer killer Rio Alek Bulo, 83 convicted defendants of the Aceh separatist movement and hundreds of killers and robbers are all residents of the infamous island.
The island has had an eerie image for years, especially with the establishment of hundreds of the Super Maximum Security (SMS) cells designed for convicted terrorists, and a special prison for convicted drug users and dealers.
In short, ever since the island was declared off-limits in 1905 by the Dutch colonists, nobody has been permitted to enter it. No one has been able to enjoy its beautiful scenery. Little was known about it at all until 1996 when the island was finally opened to the public as a tourist destination.
""It is now opened on weekends and holidays as a place of recreation. Ever since, the port has always been crowded with visitors at those times,"" Eko, a guard at a port in Nusakambangan told The Jakarta Post.
According to Woro Santati of Cilacap Tourism Office, Nusakambangan was opened as a tourist destination following an agreement between the Central Java Governor and Ministry of Justice in 1996.
The Cilacap government then invested some Rp 1.7 billion in preparations for the opening up of the island, most of which was used on the construction of tourist-related infrastructure.
A special agency (BPOW) was also established to manage tourism on the island, with the Nusakambangan Prison warden made head of the agency and Cilacap Tourism Office chief as the deputy.
It takes 35 minutes by motor boat from Lomanis Port in Cilacap, to get to the island's Sodong Port. On the way, tourists can take in the scenery at Intan Port, the Pertamina complex, Segara Anakan lagoon and the mangrove forest.
Up to 2000, a tourist had to pay Rp 15,000 to take the trip, with the minimum number of people at 20 per tour. Of the fee, Rp 10,000 was for transportation. The remaining Rp 5,000 was for the provincial government of Central Java (Rp 600), the regental government of Cilacap (Rp 900), and the Ministry of Justice (Rp 3,500).
""Since 2000, however, the fees have been increased to Rp 20,000 per tourist, in which Rp 15,000 is for transportation, Rp 2,500 the prison, Rp 1,500 the regental government and Rp 1,000 for the provincial government,"" Woro explained.
On weekdays, according to Woro, tourists are also welcome to visit the island but are required to charter their own boat at a rate of Rp 1.2 billion per tour. They are also required to pay an additional fee of Rp 13,000, with the minimum number of tourists set at 20.
The local tourism office noted that during 2003 alone, some 100,000 visited the island, generating an income of over Rp 20 million. ""But we reckoned there would be a decrease this year, due to the series of legislative and presidential elections,"" informed Woro, adding that some 2,000 tourists visited the island during the Idul Fitri holiday season this year.
Speaking separately, Nusakambangan's Permisan Prison Warden Kristadi said that the island had conserved much of its natural potential.
At Karangbandung beach, Majeti island, the rare Wijayakusuma flower can be found. Myth says this particular flower has the supernatural power of bringing the dead to life.
""West of the island, can be found rare plalar trees. In Solok Ranca Babakan there is a beautiful white sand beach,"" said Kristadi, suggesting that the management still needed much improvement, especially with regard to the distribution of revenue, which he said was unfair.
At present, he said, there were four prisons on Nusakambangan. Initially, it had nine but the other five were no longer operational. The existing prisons were LP Batu, LP Besi, LP Kembang Kuning and LP Permisan.
""Unfortunately, not all the prisons have a share of the revenue. It's not fair as we also have to maintain and mend the facilities,"" he said.
In fact, he said, almost all tourists visiting the island usually visit Permisan Prison, which he managed.
However, none of the revenue goes to Permisan. ""It's annoying. They visit Permisan, but the revenue goes elsewhere,"" he said.