The island of Nipah, Indonesia's outermost territory, has been given a fresh lease on life as an agreed baseline for Indonesia's maritime border with Singapore, after extensive reclamation work carried out by the government, a Foreign Ministry official said Wednesday.
Arief Havas Oegroseno, the Foreign Ministry's director general for international treaties and legal affairs, said the government had worked on the revitalization of Nipah Island, which will be developed for various purposes, including as a traffic monitoring base for anchoring vessels.
Nipah Island, part of the Riau Islands province off Sumatra, became a center of controversy in 2003 after environmentalists claimed an estimated 300 million cubic meters of sand had been dredged from seabed around it and sold to Singapore each year for its coastal expansion works that boomed from 1999.
Concerns have arisen that if the island disappears below sea level during high tides, it would risk Indonesia losing the maritime boundary that had been negotiated with Singapore since 2005.
A previous government report said Nipah only measured a total of 0.62 hectares when the tide came in, and expanded to 60 hectares during low tides.
"The island has now been brought far above sea level, just like before. We can already have buildings developed there and it has also been divided into several zones for different purposes," Havas said.
He added Nipah Island had a huge potential to be developed as an anchorage area, where vessels could anchor temporarily before entering Singapore, Malaysia or Indonesia.
"Nipah can be developed to become a traffic control area for anchored vessels. We need to finalize what we have to develop on the island , but the most promising is to make it an anchorage area," he said.
Indonesia will proceed with a fresh round of maritime negotiations with Singapore, after the signing of a deal on the western boundary of Nipah, which led Singapore to redraw its baseline from Sultan Shoal Island.
Havas said Indonesia would still propose the same principle at the negotiation, that it would not recognize reclaimed shoreline as the basis to determine a border. Singapore has reclaimed Jurong Island, Tuas View and Changi, mostly with sand imported from Indonesia's Riau Islands.
The Singaporean government said in 2007 the reclamation works would not be a factor in boundary negotiations with Indonesia.
"We also stick to the 1982 UNCLOS *United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea*, one chapter of which deals with the baselines of an archipelagic nation," he said.
An archipelagic state may draw straight baselines joining the outermost points of its most outlying islands and drying reefs, provided that within such baselines are included the main islands.
Havas said Indonesia would propose drawing an eastern boundary line from Batam Island that would divide it from Singapore's Changi.
"Besides the Batam-Changi segment, we also have one more eastern segment, which is that between Indonesia's Bintan *in the Riau Islands* and Singapore's Pedra Branca and its waters," he said.
"For the Batam-Changi segment, we are ready to negotiate, while for the Bintan-Pedra Branca segment, we are awaiting the outcome of negotiations between Singapore and Malaysia, because just south of Pedra Branca lies Malaysia's Middle Rock and South Ledge, which is still under dispute between the two countries. The completion of the whole negotiation could take a while," said Havas.
The International Court of Justice last year awarded to Singapore Pedra Branca and Middle Rock to Malaysia after decades of dispute between the two countries.