Maritime Security in Timor-Leste – A Fragile Situation

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In Mahein’s Voice no.23, Fundasaun Mahein (FM) undertook comprehensive research into the issue of Maritime Security in Timor-Leste post-independence.

Maritime security in Timor-Leste represents one of the most important components of national security. The government of Timor-Leste exercises sovereign rights in Timor-Leste’s economic exclusive zone. Defending public security and fighting against illegal trafficking at sea has become a challenge in the past decade since independence.

The control systems in place are weak because the current Maritime Authority, which comprises among other bodies the PNTL & F-FDTL, lacks the adequate capacity and equipment to effectively secure Timorese waters. This report highlights that up till now, maritime borders have not yet been clearly defined, between Timor-Leste and its neighbours, Indonesia & Australia. An unclearly defined maritime border, leads to confusion. This confusion hinders the Maritime Authority’s abilities to provide effective security at sea.

This report delves into some of the consequences that result from a weak control of Timor-Leste’s maritime zone. These include illegal fishing, shortages in terms public security, arms trafficking, contraband, drug trafficking, and maritime environmental degradation.

There are yet to be any patrols from the maritime unit on the south coast of Timor-Leste, which is an area of great fishing activity and a busy route for cargo ships. This puts peoples lives at risk as it leads to the unfortunate reality that should any vessel encounter any problems at sea, they cannot get any assistance from the Timorese authorities. There is also currently no system in place that can locate suspicious boats dealing in illegal activity. For example, the weaknesses of the maritime authority are such that it cannot distinguish between domestic fishing boats and illegal fishing boats.

On the one hand, this report sites that the PNTL marine unit and F-FDTL navy have made some efforts in the handling of numerous accidents at sea and have successfully captured several boats through the use of joint operations. But there is no chance yet to stop all illegal activities occurring at sea. F-FDTL patrol boat Jaco-Betano and two other boats along with PNTL speedboats are unable to patrol the south coast due their inability to tackle rough seas.

On the other hand, this FM voice has declared that there is no adequate legislation in place ensuring the capacity of the Marine Authority to guarantee the safety for those that work at sea. This places many lives at risk. Furthermore, the Ministry of Tourism and the Secretary of State for Fisheries have yet to designate specific fishing and conservation zones. As a result of this, fishing and arbitrary movement at sea may be very damaging to the marine environment.

FM concludes and recommends to the Government and the Maritime authority the following:

1.The Government of Timor-Leste needs to carry out a comprehensive study into the Maritime threats affecting Timor-Leste and must intervene urgently.

2.The Government of Timor-Leste and the Government of Indonesia need to work closely with one another, and include joint patrols on the Timorese-Indonesian border to tackle all sorts of illegal activities currently taking place at sea.

3.The Government of Timor-Leste needs to establish an Integrated National Maritime Authority bringing together the naval component of the F-FDTL, the PNTL, Customs, Quarantine, the Port Authority, and the National Fisheries Directorate. Furthermore, legislation needs to be drafted in order to strengthen their activities.

4.An increase in the quality of human resources and a higher level of coordination and control within the Maritime Authority. This will ensure better security at sea.

5.The Government of Timor-Leste needs to create an organic law for the National Maritime Authority.

For more information on this issue, please consult the following:


Nélson Belo,
Director of Fundasaun Mahein
Tlp : +670 737 4222

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