Indian Navy Gains Access to Port on Strait of Malacca

Port of Sabang, Aceh, Indonesia (file image)

By The Maritime Executive 05-17-2018 08:58:00

The government of Indonesia has agreed to allow India to invest in the deepwater port of Sabang, Aceh, near the northwestern entrance to the Strait of Malacca. The agreement is expected to provide the Indian Navy with a resupply point located just several hundred nm from one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

Indonesia's coordinating minister for maritime affairs, Luhut Pandjaitan, told an audience in Delhi that India will soon invest in Sabang's port and economic zone and will fund a hospital for the island. He said that port is suitable for naval vessels, with a well-protected, deep harbor. 

An Indonesian official told The Hindustan Times that the plan to host Indian naval vessels is not yet formalized, but it is a component of the intentions behind the agreement. Pandjaitan alluded to growing Chinese influence in the region during his remarks, and he said that Indonesia does not "want to be controlled" by China's Belt and Road Initiative. 

Sabang's strategic origins reflect its strategic future: its development in the late 19th century was driven by the Dutch Navy's need for a coaling station near the Strait of Malacca, and it served as a base for the Japanese Navy in World War II. However, it may need capital investment to fulfill its potential. As of 2005, Sabang had one deepwater berth 180 meters in length, suitable for vessels of up to 50,000 dwt, and no shoreside cranes. In 2009, Dublin Port Co. reached an agreement with the state of Aceh to develop the port for tankers and other merchant vessels. Under this plan, Sabang was to have 2.7 km of piers built by 2015, but it remains relatively undeveloped.