A courtesy call to the Indonesian Coordinating Minister of Social Affairs, Agung Laksono, to share with him the mission behind the Kembara Bahari voyage, lead to our team being invited to join the KRI Surabaya as part of the Sail Morotai event which took place in September 2012.
We were excited to be part of it, believing that it would contribute to the development of marine tourism and, of course, sailing and cruising as an important part of it.
Morotai is located on the islands of Halmahera in Maluku and is one of our most northern points in the archipelago. It is often called the ‘Memories’ Island’ due to the strategic location of Morotai – a gateway to Asia-Pacific – and its occupation by the Japanese in 1942 and then the Allied Forces under Gen McArthur in 1944.
Our team flew to Ternate from Jakarta on September 11, 2012 to join the KRI Surabaya, the Indonesia Navy ship with almost 500 teenagers and young adults and dubbed the ‘youth ship’. On board, I would be able to share my experience with Indonesian youth keen to learn about life at sea.
When we arrived at the small Bandara Babullah airport in Ternate, the place was busy. We were lucky to find a car willing to drive us to the port to where the ship was moored. When we found the imposing warship, we were very pleased and relieved to learn that First Admiral Kingkin Suroso, the Navy’s Head of the Development of Maritime Potential, was already on board. First Admiral Kingkin had been very supportive of our Kembara Bahari expedition and understood the importance of generating the public’s interest in our seas.
The warship was full of young kids. They occupied all the quarters, forcing the crew to sleep on cots on deck and in any space they could find. We were fortunate enough to eventually be assigned a cabin. Mealtimes were in the Officers’ Lounge. The most enjoyable part, however, was meeting and talking to the teenagers who came from all over Indonesia. A special session was organized during which I recounted my experience crossing the Pacific solo but it was when they stopped to chat with me that was fun.
One memorable moment was the Declaration of the Indonesian Maritime Youth on September 14th when, witnessed by state dignitaries, a 1,000m2 Red and White flag was stretched across a wide camping ground with everyone holding on to a piece of the flag declared that united we would look after our land and seas. It was truly moving. No one noticed the burning sun.
The official highlight of Sail Morotai was the attendance of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for the opening ceremony of Sail Morotai the following day. Members of his cabinet were also in attendance, creating a huge stir. In his speech entitled “Towards a New Regional Pacific Economic Era”, the President stressed that the time has come for Asia-Pacific countries to work closer together to achieve economic growth. He added that Morotai could be the new axis in Asia-Pacific trade given its strategic location between Eastern Indonesia and Asia-Pacific economies. I couldn’t help feel, however, that it would need a lot more work to make Morotai a player in that growth process.
I then understood that Sail Morotai was not meant to develop sailing and marine tourism. That was still further down the road. Sail Morotai was more for attracting national attention to the potential of Morotai and to develop the region. What the event did was to force local governments to start building basic infrastructure, look at the potential for attracting tourists, and build other facilities which would improve the people’s livelihood.
This realization was brought home to me by the fact that so little priority was given to the sail pass event in the opening ceremony of Sail Morotai. It was done right at the very end when the President and the dignitaries were dispersing, with the heavy warships – Indonesian and foreign – leading and the few participating sailboats from different countries sailing in at the tail end.
No matter. Given the opportunity to participate in Sail Morotai 2012 was a truly enlightening experience.