|KRI John Lie, sister ship of the KRI Usman-Harun, participating in a combined gunnery |
exercise with the USN during CARAT Indonesia 2015. US Navy Photo
|Brunei's KDB Nakhoda Ragam on the River Clyde on 14th Jul 2007. |
It would ultimately be sold to Indonesia and renamed KRI John Lie. Wikicommons
A Cursed Class Of Warship?
Indonesia's recent purchase of 3 Yarrow F2000 class light frigates from Brunei and the subsequent decision to name the third of class the KRI Usman-Harun ( MMSI 525014076 ) triggered off an unfortunate and unnecessary diplomatic incident with neighbouring Singapore. The 3 frigates were constructed for Brunei but were rejected and never commissioned. They were sold to Indonesia after languishing at a British dock for several years. The 2 men whom the frigate was named after were navy marines who were ordered to infiltrate into Singapore to carry out bombings and sabotage against civilian targets during then President Sukarno's Confrontation with the newly formed Malaysia ( which Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak were also part of ). The duo carried out the bombing of the MacDonald House in Orchard Road which killed 3 civilians and injured 33 others on 10th Mar 1965. They were eventually apprehended and tried in court and sentenced to death by hanging. They were branded as terrorists in Singapore but were considered national heroes back home in Indonesia. Now that Indonesia has insisted it will not back down and rename the ship, Singapore has banned the ship from her territorial waters and from calling at her ports and naval bases. Singapore naval ships will also not sail with or participate in military exercises with this ship.
The Yarrow F2000 Frigate
|Royal Malaysian Navy's light frigate KD Lekiu, a typical F2000 based warship |
with the Bofors 57mm main gun, MM-40 Exocet SSM and
an aft helicopter deck. Source : Wikipedia
Some might classify this class of warship as a corvette, displacing about 2000 tons. They were designed by Yarrow Shipbuilders Limited of Glasgow, now part of BAE Systems Surface Ships. A rather popular choice for the navies of South East Asia I must say, Malaysia's KD Lekiu and KD Jebat launched in 1994 and 1995 respectively are based on the F2000 light frigate design. At around the same time in 1995, Brunei, an oil and gas rich tiny sultanate in northern Borneo also contracted YSL to build 3 large offshore patrol vessels (OPV) based on the F2000. They were to be known as the Nakhoda Ragam class OPV, named after a legendary Malay seafarer.
The Nakhoda Ragam Class OPV
These OPVs were a state of the art variant of the Yarrow F2000 frigate built to the Sultan of Brunei's specifications, highly automated to allow for a compliment of only 79 men to operated. Displacing 1940 tonnes, they were also specially tailored to cater for the shorter statue of Bruneian sailors ( relative to Europeans ). The first and second of class, the KDB Nakhoda Ragam and the KDB Bandahara Sakam, were launched in Jan and June 2001 while the last ship KDB Jarambak was launched in June the following year. When they were completed and ready for delivery in 2004, Brunei insisted that they were not built to specifications and rejected them, even refusing to pay. The matter was eventually brought to the International Court of Arbitration and the ruling was in favour of BAE Systems the shipbuilders. Ownership was ultimately transferred to Brunei in 2007 but the Royal Brunei Navy had absolutely no plans to commission them. Instead, they contracted the German shipbuilder Lurssen to build the replacement corvettes and to find a buyer for these orphaned ships. As they were custom made for tropical operations ( no heating system onboard ) and for smaller sized Asian sailors, the potential customer base would probably be limited to countries in South-East Asia and at best the Middle-East. Finally in Nov 2012, Indonesia acquired the 3 vessels from Brunei at a bargain price of a fifth of the original cost ( reported to be 600 million pounds ). The ships would be reactivated and renamed the KRI Bung Tomo, KRI John Lie and KRI Usman Harun, in accordance with the Indonesian Navy's custom of naming their frigates after national heroes. They will be delivered to Indonesia in 2014.
|The KDB Bandahara Sakam Photo : Clydesite.co.ok|
Heroes and Terrorists
So who are these men Bung Tomo, John Lie and the two marines?
Sutomo or Bung Tomo ( Brother Tomo ) was an Indonesian military leader during the war of independence against the colonial powers. He played a central role in the Battle of Surabaya in Nov 1945 when the British forces attacked the city. Known for motivating the masses with his oratorical speeches before independence, he later became outspoken against corruption and abuses of power during the Suharto years. He died in Mecca, Saudi Arabia during the Hajj Pilgrimage in 1981.
|National Hero : Bung Tomo circa 1947. Wikipaedia|
John Lie, a.k.a. John Lie Tjeng Tjoan and Jahja Daniel Dharma was a Chinese Indonesian who joined the militia during Indonesia's war for independence and was involved in smuggling goods to Singapore in exchange for money to finance the revolution and weapons to fight the Dutch colonists. After independence, he was called to service as a commander in the navy and retired as a rear admiral in 1966. He died in 1988 and was posthumously awarded the Bintang Mahaputera Utama by President Suharto in 1995. He was declared a national hero for his services and contributions to his country by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2009.
|National Hero : Colonel John Lie circa 1960. Photo : Wikipaedia|
In contrast, Second Sergeant Usman Bin Haji Mohammed Ali a.k.a. Usman Janatin and Lance Corporal Harun Thohir a.k.a. Harun Said Bin Muhammad Ali are Indonesian Marines sent to infiltrate Singapore in civilian attire at the height of the then president Sukarno's Confrontation ( or Konfrontasi in Bahasa Indonesia ) policy towards newly formed Malaysia in 1965. The bombing of MacDonald's House ( home to HSBC Bank, Australian Embassy and Japanese Consulate then ) killed 3 innocent civilians and wounded 33 more. They were captured at sea 4 days after the bombing when trying to flee Singapore. Charged with murder and sentenced to death, they were finally hanged in Oct 1968 despite a clemency plea from the new Indonesian strongman President Suharto. They were promptly declared national heroes and buried in the Heroes cemetery in Jakarta. Note that since war was not formally declared between Indonesia and Malaysia / Singapore, these captives cannot be considered as prisoner of war ( POW) and conferred POW rights under the Geneva Convention. Although they were soldiers by profession, and even if war had been declared, they infiltrated a sovereign country without their military uniforms and that at best made them spies. Spies are usually either executed when captured and proven guilty or used as bargaining chips for prisoner exchanges and the works. At the end of the day bombing civilian infrastructures and killing and maiming innocent civilians are just acts of terrorism and the 2 perpetrators are nothing more than f***ing TERRORISTS. Misguided as they were by the Sukarno Government, they had to face the Singapore judicial system and accept the consequences of their actions. As a direct result of their execution, the Singapore embassy in Jakarta was mobbed and bilateral relations soured. It was not until 1973 when the then Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew visited their graves in Jakarta and sprinkled flowers over them that Singapore considered the chapter closed.
|National Hero? Photo : Wikipaedia|
Buying Cheap "New" Frigates
The Indonesians believed they had a good bargain, paying just US$300 million or about a fifth of the original cost of the 3 frigates. The politicians also dressed up the buy as new ships but we know better. These frigates are not exactly newly minted ships. They were constructed more than a decade ago and were left to rot at their berthing for many years. If fact they were originally out fitted with the Seawolf missile system for air defense but had to be retrofitted with the newer VL-MICA missiles as the missile manufacturer MBDA no longer sells the Seawolf missiles. All this will add to the original cost of the purchase.
Looking back, the tendency to shop for bargain goods seemed to be a national trait of Indonesia. In 1993, ex-president Habibie, then Science and Technology Minister, educated in Germany, bought the entire East German flotilla of floating junk - 15 year old corvettes, minesweepers, landing ships, gunboats, totaling 39 ships, at the "rock bottom" price of about $10 million to $12 million each without first consulting with the navy or finance ministry. It was subsequently found that to refurbish and retrofit those rusting kettles would cost Indonesia $1.1 billion, about a quarter of their annual defense budget. Despite this fiasco, Habibie went on to become Indonesia's vice president and then president, when Suharto was ousted during the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997.
If only the politicians were less corrupt Indonesia could probably be able to have a bigger budget for ordering more modern warships with better equipment and in greater numbers, like the 6 Formidable class stealth frigates of the Republic of Singapore Navy, instead of a paltry 3 ex-OPVs built for people with small statue.
The Choice of Names for A Man-of-War
While naming your ship is nobody else's business, it would be glaringly obvious to anyone that you do not give a ship a name that could offend others, including your neighbour. Imagine how would China react if Japan suddenly decided to name her helicopter carrier the JDS Yasukuni or how Japan would feel if the USN decided to name one of her destroyers USS Hiroshima. I mean you simply do not choose provocative or inappropriate names for your ships as they carry your flag and are considered an extension of your country's sovereignty everywhere it goes. When docking in a foreign country, it is like a piece of your land floating into the port of call. It is like a foreign embassy in any country.
Unfortunately, the Indonesian politicians cannot understand simple diplomatic principles with their pea brains. Maybe they don't even have a brain! They have been asked repeatedly by their Singapore counterparts, the Minister for Defense and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, what point are they trying to prove by naming their frigate after 2 terrorists? Why try to revive painful memories after almost half a century when the case had long been considered closed and bilateral relationship have prospered? Why risk aggrieving your 4th largest trade partner and your immediate neighbour? The reaction from the Indonesian ministers are even more shocking. The Indonesian Foreign Minister thought it was not a big deal since " the ships have not even arrived "and claimed that the naming was not done with malice and chided Singapore for over reacting. Going along with his stupid logic, what then AFTER the ship has arrived?
Just to illustrate how silly Indonesian politicians are, in 2013 when severe haze and smog from man-made forest fires in Indonesia's Riau Province blanketed large parts of Singapore, Malaysia and southern Thailand, protests from Singapore was ridiculed, with the Indonesian minister saying that Singapore should be thankful for all the oxygen ( generated from Indonesia's vast rainforests ) and stop grumbling about haze and air pollution that they had to endure for a few months every year during the dry season. Sadly he was just not intelligent enough to understand that by allowing his peat lands and rainforests to go up in flames, he accelerates global warming and in turn rising sea levels will result in inundation of several thousands of Indonesia's islands. A 0.5m rise in sea level will submerge 4 to 5 thousand of Indonesia's roughly 17000 islands, according to a newspaper report last week.
The Big Brother Syndrome
With a population of 237 million people, Indonesia is the 4th most populous nation on Earth and the most populous muslim country. It is also the biggest in terms of land mass among the South East Asian nations, rich in natural resources like oil and gas, timber and minerals. As a result, it always aspires to be the Big Brother of the region. Unfortunately, inept leaders, graft, poor infrastructure and many other factors prevented it from asserting its rightful influence on its neighbours.
|Regional Map of South East Asia showing the geographical location and relative sizes of Indonesia Malaysia and Singapore. From Google Maps.|
Suharto probably felt snubbed by tiny Singapore when his clemency plea to commute the death sentence to life imprisonment was rejected. It would have given him a boost in status as the new President should he be successful in saving Indonesian lives abroad. So as a face saving measure, the marines were bestowed national hero status. Why should Suharto or anybody care about the death of two lowly marines otherwise? They were not even under his orders when the crime was committed.
It was a hard decision to proceed with the execution but Singapore could not be seen acceding to the wishes of bigger and more powerful nations just because they demanded and let's not forget that every other country is bigger than Singapore in the region! * Naturally, there were talks among Indonesian ultra-nationalist about invading Singapore but they never materialized. Although Singapore gained independence in Aug 1965, 2 months before the execution of the marines, the British forces were still stationed in Singapore and did not withdraw until 1971. By then the newly formed Singapore Armed Forces had already taken over the task of protecting the nation. * Even President Clinton was not successful in his plea not to cane American Michael Fay for his theft and graffiti offenses in 1994, only a reduction of 2 strokes, from 6 to 4.
Though bilateral ties had improved following the symbolic flower sprinkling on the graves by PM Lee Kuan Yew in 1973 and the subsequent formation of ASEAN in 1977, Indonesia had never shaken itself from this Big Brother mentality. After Suharto, President B.J. Habibie famously coined the phrase "Little Red Dot" when referring to Singapore during the Asian Financial Crisis in 1998, in relation to how Singapore appeared on the world map. He did not think highly of Singapore, all of then 3 million people, pitted against his 211 million, not as a friend, apparently. However, a few months after that remark was made, when the crisis deepened and the Indonesian rupiah lost its value against the dollar by 15% overnight, it was tiny tiny Singapore that offered to provide 15 billion dollars of loan to Indonesia. This loan offer was never taken up in the end, perhaps Habibie was just too proud to eat his words and rather prefer to impose the tough reforms dictated by IMF.
As of today, the Indonesian lawmakers have refused to back down and rename the vessel. Although as the Indonesians always claimed, they have a right to name their ship whatever name they wished, they failed to take into account the feelings of their neighbours and how this could harm bilateral relationships. Some openly criticize Singapore for being arrogant because of her strong armed forces, but we all know that that is not true. Were it not for a strong Singapore Armed Forces, Big Brother Indonesia would have gobbled up Singapore loooooooong ago. Just look at Dutch New Guinea which was annexed by Jakarta in 1969 under dubious circumstances. It was subsequently called Irian Jaya but is now split into 2 separate provinces Papua and West Papua.
Singapore should really thank her lucky stars to have such a pea-brained neighbour. Because if they were to be any smarter, with their vast natural resources and population, they would have dwarfed and snuffed Singapore of her existence. The fact that Singapore continues to enjoy phenomenal growth and stability has a lot to do with lazy, corrupt and stupid neighbours. Singapore should just forget about this silly cheap old ship and move on. There is not much point to dwell in the past. Apart from banning KRI Usman-Harun from entering her territorial waters, naval bases and ports, Singapore should concentrate on diversifying her trade and diplomatic relationship with other countries and gradually reduce any real or perceived dependency on Indonesia. It is difficult to do business with a partner who does not understand anything about synergism and mutual benefits.