The disposition of three Chinese-owned ships carrying illegally
cut timber has become a test case of Indonesia's ability to pull
together national and local law-enforcement agencies in Indonesia's
effort to crack down on the logging industry. The ships, loaded with
885,500 cubic feet of raw logs valued at about $3 million, was
seized off the coast of Borneo in November. They are being held in
Jakarta's Tanjung Priok port.
Illegal timber accounts for 65 percent of Indonesia's log
production. At the current rate of deforestation, the lowland
tropical forests in Kalimantan - the Indonesian part of Borneo
Island that supplied the logs to the Chinese ships - will be gone by
Forestry officials in Jakarta say they recognize the scale of the
problem and want to act, but are frequently blocked by provincial
officials who collude with illegal loggers and profit from the
Since the fall of President Suharto in 1998, his centralized,
military-backed regime has given way to looser political ties
between Jakarta and the provinces, sparking a feeding frenzy in
"Instead of one Suharto, you now have 300 Suhartos, and all they
know is how to rape and pillage the forests," says Timothy Nolan,
director of a European Union-funded bureau that supports sustainable
forestry in Indonesia.
One such area is Tanjung Puting, a 988,000-acre conservation park
in Kalimantan that is home to one of Indonesia's last surviving
orangutan colonies. Widespread logging and forest fires have damaged
40 percent of the park. Telapak, an environmental group, estimates
that 10.5 million cubic feet of illegal logs are stolen annually
from Tanjung Puting.
Officials suspect the logs aboard the Chinese ships belong to
companies linked to timber baron Abdul Rasyid, who was elected to
Indonesia's supreme parliament in 1999. Activists and forestry
officials allege that Mr. Rasyid and his family oversee the felling
of trees in Tanjung Puting that
are either processed locally or exported as raw logs.
The seizure of the ships marks a victory in the effort to crack
down, but it has not been without setbacks. Last year, acting on a
tipoff from forestry officials, local police seized a shipment of
illegal logs from the park.
But it was a short-lived success.
"Unfortunately, after being detained for one or two weeks, they
were released [by police]," says Wahyudi Wardojo, secretary-general
to the minister of forestry. The logging resumed.
But this time, ministry officials enlisted Indonesia's Navy. The
Navy then intercepted the three Chinese ships, which had just loaded
cargoes in Pankalanbun, the port for Tanjung Puting.
The Navy impounded the vessels in Jakarta along with their
illegal logs, far from the timber bosses.
National police were then brought in to investigate the exporters
who supplied the logs. …