PortCityFutures Podcast

FRICTIONS episode #5: The contested expansion of Makassar port

In this episode of Frictions, we hear about the contested expansion of the Makassar port in Indonesia. Fishing communities here are particularly alarmed, giving that this expansion coincides with industrial sea sand mining, social injustices and corporate irresponsibility.

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Muhammad Al Amin: “I am in Kodingareng Island right now. Tomorrow we have to memorize one year of community struggle in Kodingareng Island, because on 29th of June the community started to protest Boskalis dredging. This is a year struggle, to survive, to protect the fishing ground area, so the community can still live in this area.”

Kodingareng is a tiny island facing Makassar, the provincial capital of South Sulawesi. Makassar was the centre of the Gowa Sultanate, which lasted for five centuries and has long been an important trading port. In the 16th century it was crucial for the takeover of Malacca by Portuguese merchants, and later passed under the Dutch East India Company. The port-city remained under Dutch colonial rule from the 17th century until 1945.

Its importance is not lost on national authorities today, who envision Makassar port as a new logistical hub, scheduling a 45-hectare expansion of reclaimed land from the sea. The related dredging and sand mining have affected traditional fishers in Kodingareng district, destroying their community’s livelihood.

Muhammad Al Amin, head of advocacy at the Indonesian Forum for the Environment in South Sulawesi, or WALHI, says that sand mining has already reduced fish catch by two thirds:

Muhammad Al Amin: “In June I come [to] the island and speak together with the community of fishermen, we discuss with the community to arrange advocacy, especially with women and fishermen. They are very, very angry because everyday, can you imagine from March until June they cannot get the fish, the income is lost. From February until June, the community, the women, didn’t have money to buy basic food. 90% of jobs in the island is fishermen. All the fishermen in the island lost from February until October 80 billion rupiah.

The port (is) only for project, the import export activity in Makassar is small, is very small. This port is enough to do import, export activity. I think it didn’t have benefit for the community, especially for fishermen and women in the small island.”

The state-owned port operator Pelindo outsourced the works of land reclamation for the port’s new terminal to a subsidiary of the Dutch company Boskalis. Boskalis was previously involved in the land reclamation for The Centre Point of Indonesia – a Dubai-style development on five artificial islands off the coast of Makassar. That project, supported by the Dutch state via export credit agency Atradius, created systematic impoverishment, leading to a strong decline in fish stocks and coastal erosion. This also resulted in a cemetery disappearing into the sea.

Muhammad Al Amin: “In 2017 we asked Boskalis to stop reclamation and in 2018 we asked Boskalis to take responsibility for community suffering, because we have noted that six thousand fishermen lost income because of this project. So after that Boskalis didn’t want to discuss with us, didn’t want to meet with us. In 2019 we asked Boskalis to stop sea sand dredging activities. In 2019 we saw form the website that Boskalis will return to Makassar for Makassar New Port, that’s why we asked Boskalis to communicate. We have experienced environmental damages in 2017 caused by Boskalis activities. Unfortunately Boskalis didn’t want to speak with us again in 2019. They ignored our invitation, our predictions; in February they came to Makassar and started the sand mining for building Makassar new port.”

When Boskalis returned to Makassar for the new port terminal project, fishermen on forty-eight small boats staged a protest at sea, attempting to block its dredging vessel, “The Queen of The Netherlands”. Thirteen fishermen were arrested and others punished in other ways. We spoke with Muhammad Haedir, director the Legal Aid Foundation YILBHI:

Muhammad Haedir (translated by Tita Salina): “In 2020 last year, some local fishermen they were nearly losing their jobs because they could not catch the fish, so they cannot earn money, so many of them became jobless. 

So one day they did a demonstration and they went to the sea with their boats, trying to stop the Boskalis ship, which brought the sand, and then it ended up with local fishermen getting criminalised. The reason is: the company claimed they gave compensation in cash to one local people, his name is Manrek, a local fishermen, one representative person gave the cash to Manrek and then Manrek felt really offended because his dignity was hurt. He though this is inappropriate, this is not the way it is supposed to do, so he refused the money by ripping the money in front of the man and because of that he got criminalised.

He got caught by the authorities, he didn’t get any access to layers, legal aid.

This Manrek actually went viral in national media, so there was like a self initiative movement for raising funds, with donations, cause some fishermen are broken because of the authorities attack. Right now it is stopped there, for now, but the terror is still ongoing. YLBHI the legal aid foundation, since 2020 they are making para-legal training, so local people who don’t have law education for people who have very basic education, so get training about the law, so they get a better understanding of human rights, their rights, so they would be able to advocate themselves.”

Locals consider the activity of Boskalis opaque. The port expansion project and the residential development have faced irregularities in environmental impact assessments, and both did not engage in any proper community consultation. WALHI, together with Dutch environmental and human rights organisation Both Ends, have filed a Court case against Boskalis.

Niels Hazekamp: “We filed the Court case against Boskalis here in the Netherlands, after many, many times that we asked for basic information on human rights and information on environment impact assessment for example, legal documents that they have to do for studying the impacts. Boskalis was reluctant to share its files and it was also not possible for partners in Indonesia to get the most recent facts.”

Niels Hazekamp specialises in policy advice, export credit insurance and infrastructure for his work at Both Ends. 

Niels Hazekamp: “It was already 2016 when we learned that the Dutch extra-credit agency was looking into a project by Boskalis in Makassar, Centre Point of Indonesia project. This project is a very large scale reclamation and sand mining project and the Dutch Government was thinking about to ensure Boskalis.

We did a legal action against Boskalis and in the case we asked the same questions: can you please provide the social and environmental studies that you must do for such a project. Based on the information that we had, based on testimonies from many local people, based on research that we have been doing in certain part of Indonesia before. The conclusion was that the judge ruled that both ends was inadmissible, that means that Both Ends according to the judge was not the right party to file the complaint or to carry out the legal action because it is a subsidiary of Boskalis doing the actual work in Makassar. Boskalis based in the Netherland is actually the mother company 8 layer up, so the judge ruled that Both Ends is not the right party, we didn’t go to the legal point of the legal action itself, so it was quite frustrate.

It is clear that Boskalis strategy in this case was to say “well, we as Boskalis in the Netherlands are not responsible for what the subsidiaries do, it is too faraway. What we see here is that the sand mining resulted in impacts for the poorer communities, for people living in a more traditional way. The fishermen in the protest called Boskalis neo-colonialist, and I think this shows it is colonialism in a different way it is about extractivism in a way that benefits the rich North because Boskalis is paying its taxes here in the Netherlands and it is employing Dutch people and the victims are the Indonesian fishermen and it is done under the supervision of the Indonesia State. So it is interesting to see this land grabbing and the sand grabbing is taking place in a context where the Dutch have already so much to apologise for.

We are working on mandatory human right obligations for companies here in The Netherlands, and this is something we want to address at EU level. This needs to be worked out further. But what we noticed it is a very strong opposition form lobbies organisations, they are very reluctant to implement mandatory human rights implications.”

The expansion of logistics infrastructure and sand mining is changing coastal environments at breakneck speed. In a system of material maritime interdependencies, the intensification of production for some generates scarcity for others, sparking potential conflicts.  This turns social justice into a crucial aspect to be considered when thinking about sea transformations and maritime infrastructure.

When we alter the relationships between space and time at sea, other relationships change too. Tita Salina and Irwan Ahmett are an artist duo based in Jakarta. Their recent work focuses on coastlines and oceanic thinking.

Irwan Ahmett: “Recently I have been observing through algorithm, if I am looking at Instagram or even like on social media and you see the #archipelago,  #island or #sea suddenly we are bombarded with a lot of beautiful paradise

Imagination about how we see the sea or how we imagine the sea, but if we look deeper through Google satellite or Google earth we see that the sea or the islands are not so beautiful as we thought, especially in the Indonesian archipelago there is a lot of massive exploitation through the small island, like the mining. We can see clearly huge, massive ships sucking the sand near the Bancar Island for example. So I think to come out with this problematisation, like collective identity as a maritime country, but in reality we are getting more faraway from the nation of the sea. Sea is often romanticised for different kinds of purposes, in reality in the almost everyday life, people not only, from the rich people to the poor people they exploit the sea. For example in the case of the northern coastal line of Jakarta is getting harder and harder to catch a small fish so they have to stay awake one more night to catch more fish but in reality it is not really productive as before because most of them get plastic waste than fish, but the mentality to get more fish is there. And it is very strong in our mind, I mean people in archipelagos, the civilisation and its process come from the sea, but it seems now we have forgotten. In Jakarta for example many people don’t know Jakarta has sea and I have to admit there is no public sea in Jakarta, we have to pay a lot of money just only to see the beach; this kind of separation is not only happened in one period, but it is a long period in which our mentality changed, and also deep in our collective mind as a nation, I think we are not only infected by Covid, but the most dangerous is the colonialized mind. I mean colonialism is gone, but not really gone.  I am afraid we are now colonising our archipelago. This is a very intriguing point for us to work with the sea because for us sea is creature, a huge massive creature that we have to respect but if I walk on the coast of Jakarta it looks like our planet is dying, so if we talk about reality to people, today society ignore reality, it looks like conspiracy theory, they are already infected by the polarisation of politics. And since the nation always depends on propaganda, and propaganda and another propaganda and inside the core of the ideology is empty and this impact the mind-set of people. And when merges the power of capitalism and the empty pseudo nationalism is the apocalypse happening right now in how we exploit nature, I am easily angry talking about this. Maybe Tita has a different perspective.”

Tita Salina: “I have a similar perspective, I feel very easily emotional talking about the environment and how ignorant we are. In Jakarta bay, we have a small mini archipelago we call it the thousand islands complex, but actually is not thousand, it is only 110 islands but sadly there are already five islands submerged and the cause of it is sand mining, of course. Singapore is a clear example how to expand land territory by building the land reclamation and the sand coming from Indonesia.”

Irwan Ahmett:” For almost thirty years now”

Tita Salina: “Yeah”

Irwan Ahmett: “The irony is that we also witness new-born islands, manmade islands, designed by men, very anthropocentric and legalised by religion. Now it is like a trend, in new reclamation projects in Indonesia, because of so many resistances, the capitalist mindset is using resistance as an excuse, so first they build islands and they build a mosque, for example. In Jakarta since the resistance is very strong, they build new reclamation and then at the same time they are planning to create a museum for the prophet, so this mix between capitalism and economisation of religion for us as artists is amazing but as human is terrible.